When practices start scheduling clients for veterinary technician appointments, they experience four main benefits: improved pet health, better client service, more satisfied employees, and increased revenue. But these benefits don’t come without a few challenges. Here’s how to overcome the difficulties so you can get straight to the good stuff.
1. Doctor hesitation
When Julie Sontag, AAT, RVT, a veterinary technician at Clairmont Animal Hospital in Decatur, Ga., proposed the idea of technician appointments to the veterinarian practice owner, he wasn’t so sure. “He was concerned at first about how much we technicians could actually do,” she says, “but I gave him a copy of our state’s practice act and what we were legally allowed to do, and he was fine after that.”
The duties that credentialed technicians are able to perform vary by state, so be sure to check your state’s veterinary practice act. Click here for a list of state veterinary board Web sites and contact information.
Some recently graduated veterinarians who are struggling to find their own place in the practice might be uncomfortable with technician appointments. But showing them that the system is designed to leverage their time and make the practice more productive usually eliminates any concern.
2. Clients’ cost aversion
The overall response to veterinary technician appointments at Hockessin Animal Hospital in Hockessin, Dela., has been positive, but Tara Rowe, LVT, says there was some resistance from clients. Some pet owners who were accustomed to dropping in for services didn’t like being charged an office visit fee to cover the general health assessment, especially before vaccine boosters. “Before, clients could just stop in with pets, and as long as we’d seen them within the last year, they were current on rabies, and they didn’t have any health issues, we could just give a vaccine update (usually Bordetella) without needing a doctor to check the pet,” Rowe says. “When we started the technician appointments, these clients were very upset that we were now charging them the additional $17.”
While dealing with disgruntled clients has been challenging, Rowe and her colleagues have found ways to help them understand that appointments are in pets’ best interest. “The easiest way I’ve gotten through to the most difficult clients is explaining that when giving a vaccine, we’re taxing the immune system,” she says. “So we just want to make sure there is no underlying infection or issue that would make giving the vaccine a detriment to the patient’s health.” Rowe often uses the example that pets with a high temperature should not receive vaccines at all. She says this type of explanation usually appeases clients. “When you make it about the pet’s welfare, clients are more inclined to be OK with it,” Rowe says.
Another tactic to show clients the value of the appointment is explaining what they’re saving by seeing a technician instead of a veterinarian. At Rowe’s practice, fees for a doctor visit range from $45 to $55. That’s about triple the $17 cost—not to mention additional charges for any treatment or service rendered—charged for a technician appointment. And some practices opt to waive the office visit fee for technician appointments, especially if a general health assessment isn’t necessary. (However, they would charge a fee if clients request that a doctor perform services normally handled in a technician visit.) While it’s OK to waive a visit fee, be sure you’re charging clients for the services technicians render. This keeps the practice in business and covers the cost of the technicians’ time.
3. Clients’ doctor envy
When Kyle Palmer, CVT, practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic PC in Silverton, Ore., helped start technician appointments nine years ago, he says there was some push back from clients. Some clients were confused as to why they’d see a technician instead of a veterinarian, but Palmer and his team quickly found a way to set the record straight. “Our technicians are required to introduce themselves and use the term technician to make sure clients understand they’re not seeing a veterinarian,” Palmer says. “Clients have also been told this at the time of scheduling the appointment, but it’s not always the same family member coming in for the visit.” After this is cleared up, very few clients are worried about seeing someone less credentialed than a veterinarian.
Another issue is, client perception when problems happen in the exam room. “In doing technician appointments, a practice has accepted that it’s inviting a higher level of scrutiny from the client,” Palmer says. “An animal that resists its temperature being taking by a veterinarian might often be seen as having a bad attitude. The same scenario with a technician sometimes finds the client blaming the technician for not handling the patient properly.”
To acclimate pet owners to the skills of technicians, Palmer and his practice first began using technicians following the human-medicine model of using a nurse to check vital signs and get a detailed history before the doctor enters the exam room. “When that seemed to be acceptable to our clients,” Palmer says, “we started expanding the direct use of technicians and scheduling them for admit and discharge appointments for all surgeries and hospitalized patients. At that point, all of our nail trims, anal gland expressions, etc., started being scheduled exclusively for technicians.”
Figuring out how to get technician appointments into the proverbial appointment book is difficult for some practices. Nancy Potter, practice manager at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan., has the solution. She assigns one technician each day to handle technician appointments, as well as run lab work, record lab results in the medical records, handle follow-up calls, and act as an extra set of hands where needed. This technician gets his or her own column in the schedule. Then receptionists set appointments for the technician in the same way as for the doctors, allotting the appropriate amount of time for the visit depending on the services requested. Some practices choose to avoid scheduling technician appointments at certain times of the days. For example, if you know the whole technician staff will be needed to assist doctors during heavy surgery hours, block out the technician’s schedule.
Margie Carr is a freelance writer in Lawrence, Kan.