I spent several summers working at Dairy Queen in my teen years. Besides the 40 pounds I carried away, I gained an understanding
of the importance of standards. A banana split at one franchise should be the same as the split at another, mainly so clients
know what to expect. But also because surely some food scientists somewhere formulated the perfect combination of pineapple,
strawberries, and chocolate syrup dribbled over ice cream and half of a banana. I knew exactly what they'd decided because
the recipe was posted in an easily accessible area. At first, I relied on it incessantly. Soon I could rattle off the ingredients.
I still can, years later.
Of course, the importance of the services your veterinary practice offers far outweighs that of an ice cream shop. You're
charged with the care of animals—and that's vital to pet owners' happiness. That's why it seems so important to put together
a guide to the regular preventive care items you provide, so that your staff members know what to talk to clients about and
how to support your recommendations.
"A lot of people see standards of care as a way for people to legislate and tell them what to do. Really, the goal is just
to create agreement within your practice about care—so you can communicate recommendations to clients more effectively," says
Karyn Gavzer, CVPM, MBA, a veterinary business consultant with KG Marketing & Training Inc. in Springboro, Ohio.
Consider this, says Gavzer: Most clinics use protocols for puppies and kittens. "So why would you resist protocols in other
areas? Just do for adults what you do for puppies and kittens."
Definition of a standard
Basically, a standard of care is your statement about how you'll approach wellness care. (For another definition, see "On
the Right Side of the Law.") So, for example, for dental prophys you might say: "We'll recommend a dental prophy for 100 percent
of patients with Grade 2 dental disease or worse."
On the right side of the law
As you start, keep in mind these overarching guidelines:
- You should set standards of care for all high-volume preventive care areas at your practice, but you don't need them for
every procedure. "So when you set standards, you're really only looking at a handful of areas," Gavzer says, "including heartworm
testing and prevention, preanesthetic testing, vaccinations, dental prophys, senior pets, nutrition, parasite control, and
spays and neuters."
- Standards should be short and to the point, says Gavzer. Of course, you may need supporting documents for training and to
use for discussion.
To get started, follow these three easy steps. But keep in mind, you must do all three for your standards of care to really
work, says Gavzer.
1. Gain doctor consensus
"Doctors typically have different opinions," says Gavzer. "But you're asking your staff members to work with one hand tied
behind their back if doctors disagree about high-volume preventive care issues. If you can't agree, no matter what your staff
members say, they're wrong with someone."
The worst part is the disjointed message you send to clients. "Your staff members can't say, 'We believe in this.' So for
the benefit of your patients, clients, and your staff members, you must get on the same page," she says.