Don't let scheduling troubles weigh you down

Oct 01, 2005

The day is running smoothly, appointments are on schedule, and clients are happily progressing from the waiting room to the exam room and out again with precision. Then a co-worker calls in sick. Or a chatty new puppy owner needs some extra tender loving care to get off to the right start. Or an emergency arrives and clients start backing up in the waiting room.

No matter how well organized your team is, schedule sinkers come with the territory. Some timing torpedoes can be out maneuvered. And when you hit one that's unavoidable, you can learn to patch the holes. Here's help.

The problem

Sally's running around like a chicken with her head cut off, getting madder by the minute that no one's stepping in to help.

The solution

Tap the power of training. It's probably the single greatest factor affecting workflow. After all, a co-worker who isn't confident is more likely to wait for input from you or the doctor before acting—and that can slow everyone down. That's why Seaside Animal Care cross-trains its employees.

"Everyone here is prepared to help pick up the slack if we start to fall behind," says Toman. "Our receptionist, for example, doesn't just answer the phones. She can also retrieve lab work, bring patients and clients back to the exam room, or discharge patients."

Well-trained team members can also keep the exam moving by taking medical histories. A few clients will insist on talking to the doctor, but most will readily talk to you if you present yourself with confidence and take charge. "Some clinics don't use their teams to the full potential," says Finnell. "At our clinic we try to limit the veterinarian's work to examining, diagnosing, and dispensing medication. The team handles everything else so the doctor can see as many clients as possible."

The bottom line: In a service business, you'll always hit a scheduling bump now and then. But the issues that throw you off schedule don't need to ruin your day. Practice the tips outlined above, and remember to tackle each challenge with a positive attitude—you'll be surprised by the difference it makes!

The problem

By the time 10:30 a.m. rolls around, clients are stacked as high as your ears. At five o'clock you'd rather check yourself out than deal with the next irritated person who steps up to the counter.

The solution

Get smart about scheduling. You could find you're taking on water before you even raise anchor for the day if you make these three common scheduling errors.

1. TOO MANY TEAM MEMBERS SCHEDULE APPOINTMENTS. It's great when everyone's trained to step in and help out, but if too many people make appointments you may end up confused and overbooked. While everyone should be able to view the schedule to prepare for upcoming appointments, you should limit the number of people who can make changes to the schedule.

In fact, some practices require that any same-day changes flow through one person, who'll communicate changes to the rest of the team. Or you may communicate scheduling changes by holding mini staff meetings halfway through the day to review, plan, and address problems. You can also use a dry erase board to spread the word.