Schedule right, schedule tight in veterinary practice
The right scheduling approach can keep your day moving—or create complete chaos. At your next team meeting, review the scheduling tips below. Start by discussing these key points with your team and discuss your practice’s protocols for each situation.
1. Know your team’s scheduling guidelines. Depending on your practice’s structure, some doctors or team members may not perform certain procedures. For example, Dr. Smith may not perform eye exams or Jane the technician may need training before she’s comfortable restraining a parrot. On the other hand, there may be someone on the team who loves these tasks. So find out who they are.
Another important guideline: Generally a veterinarian should only be scheduled for surgery, diagnosis and prescription.
2. Discuss service before price. When phone shoppers call, don’t discuss fees until the client understands what you offer and how you are different from other practices. Offer to email materials about your practice and your services to pet owners who don’t schedule an appointment so they can see what services you provide. Offer tours of your practice so they can see your facility. And be sure pet owners know your financial policy before they visit.
3. Brace yourself. Be prepared to handle different personalities and intense situations, including nervous or upset owners. When dealing with a sick pet, an owner is usually frustrated and worried. Remember when you’re talking to someone on the phone they could’ve just cleaned up three piles of vomit and two piles of diarrhea and the holiday roast could be on the floor.
4. Know what you can’t say. Prepare for clients who want an answer or diagnosis over the phone. Create a protocol for what’s acceptable to discuss at your practice. Some clients will try hard to get you to tell them what’s wrong or what they can do—or give—at home. Don’t. Half of the time the symptoms they’re describing end up involving completely different body systems.
5. Know how to triage your schedule. Build your protocol for levels of importance if your schedule is filling up. What counts as an emergency? Do you have the staff to take care of the situation? A client may also ask if they can wait to bring their pet in. Be careful, and follow your practice’s guidelines for these calls.
6. Drill down to the details. Do you offer drop off exams? Do you have a wildlife policy? Can you schedule so your feline patients aren’t in a room with dogs?
Finally, remember minor health concerns can still feel like an emergency to clients. So be supportive.
Tip from the trenches
In the dvm360 Veterinary Receptionist’s Handbook, Third Edition, Jennifer Graham, a receptionist in Wexford, Pa., suggests collecting your client complaints and passing them on to managers to help identify gaps in care, service and knowledge. For example, she says if you’re getting an overwhelming number of clients who aren’t receiving callbacks when promised, managers may need to look at the process to determine the issue and how to improve your system. For more about the dvm360 Veterinary Receptionist’s Handbook, visit dvm360.com/receptionistbook.
Some appointments may involve at least two to three team members. On any given day a wellness appointment can involve a receptionist checking a client in; a technician to get vitals, blood work, history and so on; a doctor to do the exam; a technician to review preventives and nutrition; the groomer to visit about services and a receptionist to check the client out. A fun way to assess how this works in your practice is to map out your most common appointments for a week and see how much time it takes each person to complete their part of the appointment. Ask each person to notate how long they take in the appointment and then plan a follow-up team meeting to discuss how to adjust scheduling, if needed.
Mandy Stevenson, RVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a technician in Creighton, Mo.