Perhaps you know of a practice where the veterinarians are always busy, but the practice isn’t necessarily very profitable. Perhaps you have even worked – or currently are working – in such a practice. The reality is that, for a practice to be profitable, it needs to be run efficiently. And, one practical way to do that is to use technicians in the most effective ways possible.

Although there is no one “right” way to structure a practice and the duties of technicians, there are methods that have been proven to be successful and this article takes a look at them.

Typical Veterinary Technician Duties

At a high level, technicians assist veterinarians in treating, preventing and/or managing disease and/or injury in animals. Overall, veterinary technician duties tend to fall into two broad categories: technical duties and communication duties.

Technical duties often include:

  • Administering vaccines, medications and treatments under veterinarian direction
  • Taking blood and sample issues
  • Taking and developing x-rays
  • Preparing patients for surgery
  • Administering anesthesia
  • Monitoring patients during procedures and recovery
  • Performing basic dentistry

Communication duties typically include:

  • Taking to clients about the needs of their pets
  • Answering questions about patients, from wellness care queries to more visit-specific information
  • Answering questions about the practice, such as services available, hours of operation, payment plan options and so forth
  • Recording patient histories and maintaining logs

More Specialized Use of Technicians

There are three broad ways in which technicians can be considered to be specialized. One is where they receive specialized education and certifications as in these areas:

  • Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians
  • Veterinary Internal Medicine Technicians
  • Veterinary Dental Technicians
  • Veterinary Nutrition Technicians

The advantage of using specially credentialed technicians is that they bring a high level of expertise in a particular area of care. Disadvantages include that they typically demand a higher salary and are less likely to be easily transferred to another part of the practice that is outside their areas of specialties when the need arises.

Conversely, using general technicians is advantageous in that they don’t typically get paid as well as specialists and can be more willing to be a general utility player in the practice. The disadvantage: they have a more general knowledge base rather than higher-level specialized expertise.

The second way that specializations occur is when a technician develops a niche in the practice, perhaps because of specific personal strengths of that technician or because of a special need in a particular practice that needs filled. Specialties might include:

  • Patient advocate: this technician may act as a liaison between a pet owner and the veterinarian, explaining procedures, answering questions and handling discharges; he or she may end up in this position because of exceptional communication skills (including translating industry jargon into language easily understood by a lay person); empathy; a willingness to continue to learn; and overall being a “people person”
  • Nutritional counselor: this person would focus on providing nutritional information to owners, perhaps about the appropriate ways to feed puppies and/or kittens; dealing with pet obesity issues; explaining dietary needs of animals, post-surgery; and so forth. He or she may be certified as a veterinary nutrition technician or may have a general certification and then develop special knowledge about dietary options.
  • Behavior manager: he or she would assist owners in dealing with separation anxiety and other behavioral issues.

The third way in which specialization can happen is when a technician is not formally certified in – or even assigned – a specialty but is often called upon to perform specific duties because of above-average skills. Perhaps someone in the practice does an excellent job of inserting IVs, or training and educating new technicians, or helping patients feel more relaxed and comfortable. Or, he or she may be exceptionally organized, which means that charts are in pristine order, the materials that veterinarians need are always available and close at hand, and client and patient names are remembered and used.

Most Efficient Uses of Technicians

One of the most efficient ways to use technicians happens before they are even part of your practice: to hire carefully so that you have the staff you need. Is the technician you’re considering motivated to be a lifelong learning? Is he or she flexible (if that’s what you value)? Is he or she willing to specialize in a niche (if that’s what your practice needs)? Does the technician appear to be proactive and a problem solver? Or is he or she more likely to wait for direction? Does the technician seem willing to ask for help when needed? Or does he or she seem to have too much pride to reach out for assistance? What about communication skills?

Not every practice will need or value the same personality traits in a technician. What’s crucial is that a particular practice hires the types of technicians, personality- and aptitude-wise, that it needs.

Next, a practice should be structured in a way that is most efficient. There is no one right way but here is how Dr. Dave Brunner from The Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana has created a successful structure. In an American Animal Hospital Association article, Effective Technician Utilization, by Phillip J. Seibert, Jr., we discover that there are four veterinarians at this practice and they each lead a team of four people; each team also has a technician, a technician assistant, and a receptionist. These four people work together closely and develop a streamlined approach that works for them. As one example, when a veterinarian is in surgery, the team takes care of all drop offs, check-ins, nursing needs and so forth. Non-patient duties, such as inventory, OSHA compliance issues, DEA issues, facility maintenance and administration are handled by the practice administrator, not the veterinarians.

Cultural Changes in the Practice

In an effort to maximize efficient use of technicians, it isn’t unusual for practices to need to make cultural changes. Here is a common scenario:

  • Veterinarians at a practice are spending too much time on nursing and technician duties
  • Because they are so busy with nursing and tech, they see fewer patients
  • Because they see fewer patients, they are not generating their full potential of gross income

So, it is determined that they need to use their technicians more effectively, which will involve delegating tasks to them that fit within their training, certifications, skill sets and knowledge. To make this happen, the following steps are involved:

  • If a veterinarian isn’t used to delegating, he or she may need:
    • Advice or training on how to do so effectively
    • Help in letting tasks go, if it is challenging for him or her to let go of some control
  • The veterinarian must very clearly communicate what the new expectations are (including restrictions on what technicians are not permitted to do, say or handle) and provide the necessary resources to make that happen
  • The veterinarian must support the technicians during this time of transition, understanding that transitions seldom happen without any bumps, and that tweaks in the process will likely need to take place; there are few “set it and go” processes
  • The veterinarian must encourage the technicians to continue to improve themselves and expand their knowledge and skills, through continuing education, webinars, trade journals, conferences, DVDs, online courses and the like
  • The veterinarian must foster a collaborative and respectful work environment where:
    • The veterinarian educates technicians
    • Technicians help one another
    • The veterinarian actively listens to the technicians’ feedback and suggestions

Benefits of this Approach

When technicians are used efficiently, veterinarians can generate more gross income – and, through improved efficiencies, the technicians play a role in preserving a higher net income. When technicians effectively communicate with owners, people often find the exchange less intimating and the technicians’ use of layperson language easier to understand.

Practices that use technicians effectively and provide a quality environment for their professional growth tend to retain staff, which adds to client satisfaction and overall professionalism of the practice