Practicing veterinary medicine presents lots of paradoxes. Perhaps none is more perplexing than the following example:
Veterinary practices strive to stay busy. We’re driven by the need to help more patients. In order to keep on seeing more patients, we have to pay overhead costs, provide attractive staff salaries and earn a profit. So, we work hard to get busier and busier by attracting more and more clients and patients. Pretty soon there comes a point when we’re so busy the phone gets answered with, “Can you hold, please?” That's around the same time we find ourselves walking into exam rooms where a client has waited long past their appointment time. Then we’re put into a position of damage control instead of relationship building.
Is that disrespectful? You bet it is! I fired a physician once myself for that same reason because it happened three times in succession. I thought to myself, “My time is just as valuable as his.” And that’s what your clients think, too when you’re habitually too busy to respect their time.
Why the Focal Point Has Moved
We used to be a doctor-centered profession. In the days before all the information technology we now have, clients practically hung on every word their veterinarian said.
Now, like our human physician counterparts, we’re a patient-centered profession. (Actually, ours is a bit more complex, as in patient-client-centered.) That’s good news in many ways. But until the new focus is embraced, good clients will slowly drift away to practices where they sense they’re getting the respect they deserve.
Of course, veterinary medicine was already complex enough. And the basic complexity of the client-patient-doctor reality is a significant source of stress. Let’s not forget stressors like the relentless influx of new knowledge, new technologies, new graduates and new models of practice ownership. Oh, and veterinarians will always need to fill their role akin to pediatricians while maintaining abilities to care for a wide range of species and breeds.
Sorry, but almost no clients understand or are interested in the true challenges of providing high-quality services in a relaxed and consistently respectful manner. Yet, practices cannot reach their full potential any other way.
Pressures of “busyness” in daily practice create a powerful force that tends to squeeze our focus down to the issues at hand. Of course, that’s bound to happen as a practice grows and serves increasing numbers of clients and patients.
When that kind of pressure raises a red flag, it’s time to make changes that make clients feel respected and valued.
But, that kind of change won’t happen without a commitment to a long-term philosophy of practice management.
What Does a Long-Term View Look Like?
1) Developing Patience
Patience is most often thought of as an “in the moment” kind of attitude. And, we all need to develop that, too. But, in this case, patience needs to be applied to reaching goals over a period of years. That’s difficult in our current culture of instant gratification. A lot of intentionality is needed.
It means not being fazed by comments heard at CE meetings from a colleague sharing how fast his practice is growing.
It means living on less profit for a few years while hiring and training outstanding people in order to build a strong foundation of happy and loyal clients.
It means cultivating an office culture with a long-term view.
2) Providing Adequate Staffing
Adequate, in this case, is not a reference to the quality of staff. That’s a given. Instead, it means hiring sufficient quantity of quality people to allow your practice to extend respect to every client.
Keeping appointments timely and unhurried is the stated and shared goal of the whole team.
Just because your accountant sees those salaries as liabilities doesn’t mean you have to take the same attitude. The long-term view sees them as investments in people who are forming bonds with the lifeblood of your practice: clients.
3) Use Technology to Your Advantage
Mark Olcott, DVM, MBA, wrote in a recent blog post about evolving consumer communication preferences. He says, “One of the biggest areas where this is evident is in the changing preferences with respect to the almighty telephone.”
The vast majority of your clients routinely use smartphones. By offering access to your services and appointments through text, email and a fully functional website saves huge chunks of time. That time can be far more effectively used to bond with clients during visits to your hospital.
4) Reasonable Scheduling
Much has been written about how to schedule for maximum patient visits per day.
Isn’t it time to switch our focus more to the quality of visits?
While the primary point of this article is finding ways to respect clients and their time, veterinarians and their teams stand to benefit, too. Could a long-term strategy reduce stress, burnout and anxiety?
5) Commitment to a Balanced Lifestyle
One of my most dependable practice team members used to say, “Start out like you can finish out.” That pithy piece of wisdom promotes self-preservation, which, in turn, extends the amount of energy available to perform at a high level over the long haul.
Ask yourself, “Would I rather interact with someone who’s relaxed, confident and hospitable, or someone who’s rushed, stressed and too busy to think about being respectful of my time?”
Just like many other things in life, busyness will either control us, or we will control it. Taking control demands intentional planning and execution. The rewards might be even better than we imagined.