Improving the bottom line of a practice is typically an ongoing endeavor – and it’s important that, as you create opportunities for enhanced revenues, you also continue to brainstorm ways to become more efficient in your practice. One excellent way to do this: use your veterinary technicians more effectively.
When technicians are used efficiently to assist in treating, preventing and/or managing disease and/or injury in animals, more of the veterinarians’ time is freed up to generate revenue. And, through more streamlined processes, technicians continue to play a key role in preserving a higher net income. Here is just one example: when technicians communicate directly with clients, their use of layperson language is typically easy to understand – which helps with client retention. Plus, practices that use technicians effectively in a professional environment tend to retain staff, as well – which also adds to client satisfaction and reduces costs associated with staff turnover.
Although there is no one “right” way to structure a practice and technician duties, there are methods proven to be successful, and this article takes a look at them.
Step 1: Hire Strategically
First, create a job description that includes both technical and communication requirements. Not every practice will need or value the same skills, but here is a starter list to consider.
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
Use these to guide you while interviewing candidates. Then, once you’ve narrowed your search down to a couple of candidates, consider these questions:
- Is the technician you’re considering motivated to be a lifelong learner?
- Is he or she flexible (if that’s what you value)?
- 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?
Step 2: Before You Make a Hiring Decision
Does it make sense to hire specialized technicians? The answer is – it depends. It depends upon how you are defining “specialized” and it also depends upon the requirements of your practice. Specially credentialed technicians bring a high level of expertise in a particular area of care – but they typically demand a higher salary. So, will a technician’s expertise free up the veterinarians to the degree that the higher pay is justified? Only you can answer that question for your practice.
There are three broad ways in which a technician can be considered a specialist:
- The technician received specialized education and certifications. This is the formal definition of the term.
- The technician has developed a specialized niche in his or her career to date.
- The technician hasn’t been formally certified or even specifically assigned specialized duties, but clearly has above-average skills in a particular area(s).
Specialized Education and Certifications
Technicians can receive specialized education and certifications in these areas:
- Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians
- Veterinary Internal Medicine Technicians
- Veterinary Dental Technicians
- Veterinary Nutrition Technicians
If one of these specialties will provide your practice with a much-needed skill set, then this should help to dictate your hiring decisions. But, if your practice needs a more general utility player, a technician with specialized education is less likely to be the right choice, especially at the higher pay rate, as he or she may not be willing to take on more general technician duties.
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.
- Behavior manager: he or she would assist owners in dealing with separation anxiety and other behavioral issues.
Above-Average Skills Set
These skills could include the ability to:
- train and educate new technicians
- insert IVs
- help clients and/or patients to feel more relaxed
- organize charts in an exceptional manner
- foresee what the veterinarians will need
- remember client and patient names
What, specifically, does your practice need? Hire to fill in gaps and to raise the levels of competency in key areas.
Step 3: Structure the Practice Efficiently
Again, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but here is an example of what worked for a particular practice, published in the American Animal Hospital Association article, Effective Technician Utilization, by Phillip J. Seibert, Jr. It describes how The Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana created a successful structure with its four veterinarians. Each veterinarian leads a team of four people, wherein a technician, a technician assistant and a receptionist work together closely and develop a streamlined approach that works for them.
When a veterinarian is in surgery, for example, 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.
Would this work for you? If not, what changes would you make to fit your practice?
Also look at the practice culture. Veterinarians should delegate whatever is reasonable to technicians so that they can generate their potential of gross income. To create a culture shift in which technicians are taking on tasks that fit their training, certifications, skill sets and knowledge, the following steps must occur. The veterinarian:
- May need training on how to delegate effectively.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
When practices hire wisely, structure their practices appropriately and make necessary culture changes, technicians can provide veterinarians the support that they need for a well-run practice with an improved bottom line.