The veterinary industry is in an unprecedented position right now. A lack of DVMs, changes in the business environment, and record levels of pet ownership have put immense pressures on practices, veterinarians, and support staff. In order to alleviate the lack of veterinarians, current members of the industry should participate in outreach, career days, shadow programs, and more. But who has the time?
How can we as an industry make it less stressful? Organization! As Marie Kondo and the Home Edit have shown, external organization can lead to more internal peace. While we won’t be throwing out things that don’t “bring joy,” this article will examine three common organizational pain points within a practice: physical organization, patient record organization, and staffing organization, to show how they impact doctors and productivity, as well as some possible solutions.
Well-organized exam and surgery rooms can dramatically increase productivity. For many, this is very obvious – when items have a specific place, any staff member can easily find and deliver the tools needed for many common procedures. Additionally, staff can quickly inventory supplies and order replacements for items that are running low, preventing emergency restocks.
Doctors will feel more appreciated and comfortable entering into a clean workspace that’s ready for their patient. A doctor may have to help clean up the room, which impacts efficiency and can distract from the patient. Missing supplies slows down appointments as well, leaving staff to scramble. If you’re working in a situation where there are no support staff, then you may come up against a situation where you need an item, but you’re out. The item is in a supply closet down the hall, but your patient is in the middle of surgery and you can’t leave the room.
To keep areas well-organized, build in time between appointments to return the room to the best operating condition. Choose veterinary assistants or other support staff for these tasks to allow vet techs and DVMs to focus on the next patient. Give staff 5-15 minutes to clean workspaces and instruments, restock supplies and double-check drug stock levels. This small buffer should allow your team to communicate anything you’ve run low on or out of, as well as maintaining proper hygiene.
Along with a clean and organized physical space, a well-organized record process can truly shift a practice to high efficiency. Technology like improved voice recording and transcription as well as digital recordkeeping suites can make storing and sharing patient information easier than ever.
This is helpful in multi-doctor practices, where a patient may see different DVMs over the course of their lifetimes, but also in single-doctor practices. The less time spent searching for records, the better. And if you do add on DVMs, or call in a relief veterinarian to cover a vacation, it’s much easier for new talent to find the right information for the right patient if your records are organized and filed, regardless of whether those records are paper or electronic.
Some practices have found success with digital dictation software, allowing doctors to simply speak their notes out loud during the examination. With continual advances in technology, these programs require less time to train up than ever. Having a staffer review the dictation and clarify certain terms or format the content frees up the DVM even more. It also removes the hurdle of unclear handwriting or possible smudges or spills.
And veterinary EMR systems can make record-keeping simpler. Digital dictation can be added to the patient’s file quickly, and associating lab work, x-rays, or other outside information becomes easy and clear. As everything is consolidated in one system, your team doesn’t have to scramble for the correct, current information.
While the drive to reduce costs is important, cutting costs through understaffing, whether through too few DVMs or too few veterinary technicians and other support staff, can reduce efficiency and result in a poor customer experience. Too few veterinarians means that you’re limited on the number of clients you can see in a day. Too few vet techs turns 15 minute appointments into hour-long sessions.
The AVMA’s 2018 state of the industry report showed that adding support staff increases practice efficiency.
“…The efficiency of practices improves with an increase in the number of non-veterinarians per unit of DVM. More than 80 percent of practices with a veterinarian-to-non-veterinarian ratio greater than 1:6 have an efficiency index of 0.5 or more.”
As noted in the previous sections, sufficient support staff can take care of room orderliness, supply ordering and note taking. Additionally, tech staff is crucial to manage and restrain animals in many procedures – even something as routine as cleaning an exterior wound. The extra sets of hands and eyes can allow veterinarians to focus on the critical aspects of any procedure.
A good support team makes DVMs feel good about their work. They can focus completely on the patient, and they’re not distracted with administrative duties. And sometimes you just need more than two hands!
As support staff cost a fraction of a veterinarian salary, it makes sense to form a good core team of non-degreed staff so that your veterinarians can focus on patients, not supplies, clean-up, or notes.
Let’s break that down into some math. For this exercise, an appointment lasts an hour, with 15 minutes intake, 30 minutes of procedure, and 15 minutes of conclusion (final consult, payment, clean up of rooms). A DVM costs $100/hour, a vet tech costs $20/hour, and a receptionist costs $15/hour. Let’s assume that you earn an average of $100 revenue per appointment.
Scenario 1: 1 DVM, 1 receptionist
Here, your receptionist answers phones, greets pet owners, and maintains the rooms, but does not assist with animals in any way.
You spend $75 on the DVM to complete intake and the procedure and $3.75 on your receptionist to close out the appointment. Your total cost is $78.75. You can only take one appointment per hour, so your net revenue per hour is $21.25.
Scenario 2: 1 DVM, 1 vet tech, 1 receptionist
Here, you spend $15 on intake and procedure with your vet tech, $50 on the DVM for the procedure, and $3.75 on the receptionist to close out the appointment. Your total cost is $68.75 for the appointment, a cost reduction of 13%.
You can still only schedule one appointment per hour, although your doctor theoretically has half an hour available. You don’t have enough staff to complete both intake and the procedure within the hour. Your net revenue per hour is $31.25.
Scenario 3: 1 DMV, 2 vet techs, 1 receptionist
Here, you can run two appointments per hour. Your first vet tech runs intake and a procedure. Halfway through the procedure, your second tech starts intake of the next patient. Your doctor can then see two patients in an hour due to techs taking on the intake. Your cost is still $68.75 per appointment, but because you have two appointments per hour, your net revenue per hour is $62.50.
|Scenario||DVM Cost||Receptionist Cost||Vet Tech Cost||Total Cost||# Appts||Net Revenue|
How does the AVMA come to such a high efficiency rate at a 1:6 ratio then? We’ve simplified our example to the extreme. As more complex cases come in, a higher ratio helps with restraining the animal, delivering needed supplies, monitoring anesthesia, and more. These complicated procedures can also increase revenue.
It’s easy to say that hiring is the solution to understaffing, but we realize that it’s not always economically feasible to add staff quickly. One option would be to hire relief staff for a day or two a week to add capacity without adding the full cost of an on-staff employee. Of course, adding part-time support staff can help you ramp up your efficiency for current DMVs on staff.
A well-organized practice can create an efficient environment that gives doctors and staff a better work experience while also improving the bottom line. Separating out duties to support staff can free up DVMs to fully center their work on healing patients while also decreasing costs.
Keeping a tidy practice with well-organized records lets doctors and staff easily find what they need, reducing stress, while maintaining a good ratio of DVM to support staff will improve morale as well as costs.
Let’s work together to make the veterinary industry less stressful, opening up time to reach out to future generations of vets.