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4 reasons patients should see techs instead of vets
When clients schedule appointments with technicians instead of veterinarians, everyone wins. Find out if your practice could benefit from starting technician appointments.
Rarely does a single idea solve multiple issues, but technician appointments are multitaskers in the solutions department. You'll see here that implementing these appointments improves four potential problem areas in a practice and benefits every member of the veterinary team, as well as clients and patients.
Benefit 1: Healthier pets
Enhanced patient care is the reason Silver Creek Animal Clinic PC in Silverton, Ore., began technician appointments more than nine years ago, and the team has kept them going for the same reason. "These appointments give technicians an opportunity to advocate for pets that cannot advocate for themselves," says Kyle Palmer, CVT, practice manager at the clinic.
Palmer says that quite often a simple nail trim, for example, becomes even more important when the technician notices an overdue vaccine or recognizes a health problem the owner didn't know about. "At our practice, it's the rule rather than the exception when a technician appointment uncovers other concerns: heart murmurs, skin problems, dental disease, you name it," he says. "Our technicians find these regularly when performing what would otherwise be a routine procedure."
Of course, to officially diagnose any condition, the technician summons a veterinarian, but no law prevents a technician from seeing it first, Palmer says. (Palmer suggests writing a protocol that clearly outlines how technicians should avoid a diagnostic conversation and when and how to transition a technician appointment into a doctor appointment. Click here for his protocols and more on technician appointments.) This early detection improves the chances of successfully treating the pet and preventing problems from becoming serious.
Benefit 2: Happier clients
Keeping pets healthy is priority No. 1, and in many cases, keeping their owners happy is priority No. 2. Julie Sontag, AAT, RVT, a veterinary technician at Clairmont Animal Hospital in Decatur, Ga., was frustrated by how the disorganized scheduling in her busy seven-doctor, seven-technician practice was upsetting clients. "We used to have 'take backs,' which ranged from nail trims to gland expressions, to weight checks," Sontag says. "Pets would be taken back to the treatment area whenever they arrived. Sometimes clients would have to wait forever in the lobby if we were busy with something else—which was always." The willy-nilly nature of these appointments resulted in poor client service, as well as a hectic day for technicians and assistants. "Clients would bring their pets in any time throughout the day—during appointments, during surgery, right as we were closing," Sontag said. To make matters worse, clients would have to sit in the waiting room while a veterinary assistant or technician rendered the services.
Sontag believed technician appointments would increase clients' satisfaction and offer the opportunity to talk with them more personally, so she proposed the idea to the practice owner. He agreed—with a bit of hesitation. (See "Learn More" on page 22 for info about going online to read about his reservations—and how to solve them.) One year later, the appointments are paying off. "Our clients love technician appointments," Sontag says. "They don't have to wait, and they like the face-to-face interaction. They feel like they're being taken care of."
Another client favorite: Technician visits can save money. Rather than paying for the doctor's time, clients pay a smaller office-visit fee at some practices or simply the cost of the services rendered at other practices. Either way, clients receive excellent care at a reduced cost.
Benefit 3: Gratified technicians
Involving veterinary technicians in client and patient care increases their job satisfaction—and their colleagues' too. The Hockessin Animal Hospital in Hockessin, Dela., started scheduling technician appointments about a year ago, and Tara Rowe, LVT, says that she and many of her fellow technicians are enjoying their jobs more than ever. "It's a nice way to bond with our clients and establish a rapport with them," Rowe says. "I've actually had clients ask for me by name because of the extra time I spent with them during a technician appointment. That really makes you feel special."
Palmer from Silver Creek Animal Clinic agrees. He's worked as a veterinary technician since the 1990s. "Early on in my career, technicians and assistants were just another set of hands for the doctors," Palmer says. "We weren't used to performing procedures of any kind, and I can assure you that if the roles hadn't evolved, I would've left the field quickly."
Handling certain appointments allows technicians to expand and sharpen their skills. The appointments also show employees that the practice values their contributions, and that elevates every member of the team. This type of environment encourages professional growth and often opens up owners and managers to the idea of delegating responsibilities to receptionists and assistants, as well as technicians.
Benefit 4: Increased revenue
When team members win, so does the practice, as evidenced by the success of technician appointments at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan. Clients were scheduling doctor appointments for pets that didn't necessarily need to see a doctor, according to practice manager Nancy Potter. Even though technicians were handling the pets, the practice still had to block off doctor time to ensure the technician assigned to work with that doctor for the day would be available. As a result, veterinarians were sitting idle while their assigned technicians did thyroid rechecks or applied rubber nail caps to cats' claws.
To make the best use of everyone's time, the practice started technician appointments. While Potter hasn't specifically studied their effect on the bottom line, technician appointments do enable the practice to see more clients. "I looked back on a recent Saturday, and we had eight technician appointments in a four-hour time frame," Potter says. "During that time, the doctors had a full schedule of appointments. If we had not had technician appointments, we would've had to use doctor time. So we generated income from not only the doctors' time, but the technicians' as well." As stated earlier, even though the practice is earning more money, clients might actually be saving. It's a perfect financial situation.
All this isn't to say technician appointments come without challenges. Palmer knows firsthand that these visits can be a pain in the mouth. "Once, while performing an anal gland expression, I was chatting away with the client and the expression shot right into my open mouth," he says. "Luckily, the client wasn't watching, but you can imagine how I felt the rest of the day." All kidding aside, technician appointments do come with certain difficulties. Click here for more advice on avoiding pitfalls in technician appointments and ensuring you only reap the rewards.
Margie Carr is a freelance writer living in Lawrence, Kan. Please send questions and comments to email@example.com.