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July 10, 2018
February 7, 2017

10 Ways to Improve Efficiency and Profitability in Your Practice

Mark Opperman

Are your team members always busy (or, at least, they appear to be busy), yet the work is not getting done? Are you frustrated by team members’ frequent complaints that they don’t have time to get projects completed? Do you feel like you are up to your neck in alligators but you don’t have time to drain the swamp? Well, the problem may not be your team members. Instead, the problem may lie in the environment and systems you have in place that simply will not allow your team to be efficient. 

Here are ten ideas that have been proven to significantly improve efficiency in other veterinary practices. See if some of these might help you.

1. Switch from paper medical records to electronic medical records

One question I usually ask participants at my seminars is, “How many of you have converted from paper medical records to electronic medical records?” Normally, about a third of the audience puts up their hands. Next I ask them, “Of those who made the conversion, how many would go back to paper medical records?” Do you know how many hands go up? None! Never! That response must speak loudly to those who have yet to make this transition. The day of paper medical records is gone - they are a dinosaur! It is long past time to make this change in your practice. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes! Every veterinary software company has a protocol you can follow to make this transition. I would suggest you contact your software company to find out what you need to do to make this happen for your practice. What I will promise you is that it will be one of the smarter things you have ever done to improve efficiency in your practice.

2. Use templates in your medical records

Once the switch from paper medical records to electronic medical records has been accomplished, the next step is to develop templates in your veterinary software program. Many of the software systems already have these templates; all you need to do is modify them to best fit your practice. Just think how amazing it will be to have a discharge order form already formatted so that all you have to do is fill in the blanks and check off the boxes. You can do the same for your outpatient exams, surgery log, anesthesia log, dental medical record and discharge order form, just to mention a few. Many veterinarians have told me that this one idea has greatly improved their efficiency, the quality of their medical records, and their ability to get home to their families at a reasonable hour.

3. Embrace Technology

Are there enough computer terminals in your practice or do people often wait in line to use a terminal? Do you use writing tablets, ipads, or other technology in the exam room to help you communicate with clients and improve upon your efficiency? Might an additional credit card machine help your receptionists invoice clients faster, so that clients won’t have to wait? Recently, a veterinarian complained to me that he couldn’t get ink ribbons anymore for his dot matrix printer. (No, I am not kidding.) Technology needs to be updated every three years or so; some might even say sooner. If you have gotten three years out of your computer, printer or other hardware, maybe it is time to update it. A newer, faster computer or printer might greatly improve upon your practice’s efficiency.

4. Use a telephone operator station

This is an idea I just love. Take the telephones away from your receptionists and set up a telephone operator station instead. All phone calls will then be routed to the phone operator station. The “operator” will answer the call, respond to clients’ questions, schedule appointments, and either transfer calls or send them to a voicemail box. In every situation where I have seen a telephone operator station established, client service has improved dramatically. This is because team members are able to focus on the clients in the practice without the distraction of the telephone, and clients calling in receive priority service as well. This is really the epitome of a win-win situation and the best news of all - you normally won’t need to hire anyone new to establish a telephone operator. These jobs are already being done. This will just be a refinement of your team’s duties and responsibilities and the result will be enhanced customer service and greater efficiency.

5. Use bar code scanning

This one I don’t get. Why aren’t more practices using bar code scanning for their inventory management and client receipting? Go into any retail outlet, department store, or grocery store and you will find they use bar code scanning. So why don’t we do the same? The answer is that some practices are indeed using this awesome technology.

You have three choices when using bar code scanning. First, you can scan items as you receive them. This would allow inventory to be entered immediately into your veterinary practice management software and automatically update prices and the inventory on hand at the same time. The second option is to scan items at the point of sale, so when a client purchases a bag of food, it will be scanned just as it would be in a grocery store. Or third, and maybe even better, you could do both! Many distributors and some of the veterinary software companies will help you set this up in your practice. Bar code scanning really can be a thing of beauty when used correctly. It cuts down on many inventory mistakes, ensures proper pricing, and reduces the time needed for inventory management.

6. Create scripts for the more common communication occurring in your practice

When a client calls to ask about heartworm, feline leukemia, or West Nile disease, how do your team members respond? Some receptionists and technicians may be very concise and succinct in their communication while others may suffer from what I call “verbal diarrhea.” The other question is what are team members telling clients and are they all saying the same thing? I strongly suggest practices develop written scripts for some of their more common communication needs. This doesn’t need to sound like a person is reading from a script but at least the major bullet points should be listed so that team members cover all the important points. As with anything else, “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect,” so call the practice and listen to how phone calls are answered. Or better yet, have someone else call as a mystery shopper. Written scripts insure not only accuracy of communication, but also efficiency and consistency. Follow this link to view a script from our Management Tools for Veterinary Practices.

7. Outsource your reminder system

With all the companies now offering you the ability to outsource your reminders, you need to look at the cost efficiency of doing so. Most of these companies will allow you to customize your reminder protocol and can handle postal reminders as well as email reminders. It is not uncommon for me to visit a practice and inquire of the owner or practice manager about their reminder system, to find out who is handling it and how often. But then when I check with the person actually tasked with the reminders, I get a totally different story. In fact, one practice found that they were not sending out any reminders at all! The receptionist who had done this job previously had left the practice and no one picked up the responsibility - everyone thought someone else was doing it. Outside companies can be relied upon to get reminders out. In many cases, they will send reminders weekly and have multiple pets on one reminder card, thus saving you money. When determining the cost effectiveness of outsourcing your reminders, remember to factor in the time and cost of your team members. Are there other things they might be doing during that time that might be more beneficial for the practice?

8. Delegate

You have likely heard the saying, “delegate for success”. It is true. If you need to be involved in every task or check and double-check everything, how will you ever get your work done and move the practice forward? Many people believe that only they can do something and do it right. Those are people who are headed for burnout and frustration. Delegation is an art. It is something that needs to be learned and practiced. Once you master the art of delegation, you will see what an amazing a tool it can be to help you accomplish your goals and achieve success in your endeavors. One key to delegation is to have the right people to delegate to. If you are the practice owner, do you have an office manager, practice manager or hospital administrator to whom you can delegate management tasks? If you are one of those managers, do you have a lead receptionist, head technician or kennel manger to whom you can delegate? Look at your organizational chart. If all the lines point to you, maybe you need to work on developing more individuals to whom you can delegate and, in doing so, improve your productivity and efficiency.

9. Align your doctor's office hours and surgery schedule with your team schedule

A big problem for many practices is aligning their team schedule to fit their doctor’s office hour and surgery schedule. Doctors may be scheduled to do office hours or surgery but they don’t have the correct number of team members scheduled to work with them in order to get the job done. I think, in many practices, the employees schedule the practice instead of the practice scheduling the employees. For example, if an employee says they can only work until 4:00 pm or that they can’t come in until 10:00 am, then they are dictating the schedule, not us. 

When creating your team’s schedule, I suggest that you first determine the doctors’ office hours and surgery times, then superimpose your team schedule upon that. If you have a doctor performing surgery, then you know you will need a receptionist, at least one or two technicians, and a veterinary assistant. If you have another doctor doing outpatient office visits at the same time, you know you will need an exam room assistant, possibly another receptionist and a pharmacy/laboratory technician. The point is that the doctors’ needs should drive the team schedule. There are some excellent scheduling programs available to help you accomplish this task. Many of these programs will inform you of the ratio of support staff to doctors at any given time and the cost of the team members scheduled, to help you with budgeting. It is very hard to be efficient if we don’t have the right team members in place to assist our doctors during the course of the day.


10. Make sure your laboratory results go directly into the patient’s medical record

One simple thing you can do to improve your practice’s efficiency is to inquire if laboratory results for in-house and outside laboratory can be sent directly into your patients’ medical records. Many veterinary software systems are designed to facilitate this process so that the results from in-house laboratory equipment can go directly into the patient record, as can your outside laboratory results. The time savings derived from this can be immense and, as an added benefit, it will prevent transcription errors as well. If your software supports this activity, I suggest you look into setting this up. The same thing goes for your outside laboratory results. It will make life so much easier.

These are only ten ideas that might improve efficiency and profitability in you practice. Truth be told, they were pretty easy to come up with. Sometimes it’s the little things that can have the biggest impact upon your practice. Things like not having enough phone lines, having to wait to process credit cards because a phone line is busy, or having to run back to another printer to get client receipts can really slow things down and have a domino effect. Take a look at your processes and talk to your team - they are a great source of knowledge. Together, try to identify the areas where your practice is inefficient and start taking steps to improve upon your practice’s efficiency. The rewards can truly be great.

Visit our new Seminar Map to view where Mark Opperman, CVPM, will be speaking next.

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