4 tips you can take to the bank


Inspire yourself-and your team-by tackling a revenue-boosting tip from 100 Well-Managed Practices nationwide.

A tip seems like just a little thing—a sliver of advice you can put into action in a moment, an hour, a day, or a week. But this little step can also inspire you and give you the energy to keep going when the road looks all uphill from here. These days many of you could use a tip or two on raising your revenue and managing your business better. Here are four.

For Benchmarks 2009: A Study of Well-Managed Practices from Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates and Veterinary Economics, a hundred Well-Managed Practices were asked how they kept revenue growing in spite of the still-lagging economy. Their responses focused on enhancing core health services, boosting client service and convenience, and increasing compliance with hospital standards of care.

Consider these revenue-boosting tips from this year's Well-Managed Practices. You just may find that, along with growing your income, they help you and your team members become more motivated, eager, and hopeful about your practice—and the clients and patients you serve.

1. Check your revenue the easy way

When you look at your profit-and-loss statement, you may think there's nothing wrong with your revenue. Sure, you could always use a few more dollars, but the real problem is your high expenses, right? Not so fast. While expenses may sometimes appear out of proportion to revenue, the real issue may still be low income. If you increase revenue by providing additional necessary care to patients and keep your expenses relatively constant, expenses will drop in relation to revenue. You'll improve the quality of your patients' lives, and you'll boost your bottom line.

The easiest way to increase revenue is simply to make sure you charge for all services you provide. Pull 10 recent outpatient and 10 recent inpatient files for each doctor, and cross-check those with the client invoices. If you find that charges are slipping through the cracks, figure out why, then plug the gaps in the process. Ask technicians to enter services provided on exam-room travel sheets and take the responsibility for the invoice out of the doctor's hands.

2. Educate your team to fix your revenue troubles

Core health services are the bread and butter of your practice. It's time to enforce your hospital's medical standards to create a consistent level of care for every patient, regardless of the doctor or team member who's in the exam room. Here are three ideas to make education a team affair:

> Find out what you're missing when you don't bring your team on board for client education. Compare your medical services as a percentage of total revenue to Well-Managed Practices' service percentages in "Stop underserving your clients". This will help you see how you and your team can do more to emphasize crucial medical care.

> Offer CE for existing team members and new hires. Everyone should know what the doctors are—and should be—recommending so team members can support the doctors' advice when clients ask them questions. This cuts down on confusion during office visits and helps clients make informed decisions in the best interest of their pets.

> Allow your by-now-well-educated team to answer client questions. This frees up time for the doctors to provide more medical services. When you leverage team members effectively—even hiring additional employees when warranted—total revenue produced per doctor can increase significantly, as long as client demand is sufficient. See "Hire more, earn more" at left for more.

3. Ask yourself these questions to maximize client satisfaction

When a pet owner walks in your door, whether it's a new or established client, increase the likelihood of a return visit by boosting your level of client service and improving convenience. Ask yourself:

> Is the reception area attractive and inviting?

> Are team members helpful and attentive?

> Do team members answer client questions knowledgeably and promptly?

> Do you cross-train receptionists, technicians, and veterinary assistants so they know how the practice operates in the back as well as in the front? With cross-training, back-room staff will better understand front-desk stresses, and front-desk staff will be better able to answer questions, like why Mrs. Johnson can't pick up her dog early after surgery—the anesthesia is still wearing off.

> Do you schedule the next visit during checkout? Remember that most clients forget all about their next visit once they walk out your door. For clients who don't schedule, send a reminder close to the date of their next recommended visit. Review the patient's medical record and note any missing necessary care in the reminder you send. A call, a note, or an e-mail will help to jog clients' memories and help these well-meaning but busy pet owners follow up on crucial care for your patients.

4. set up clear standards of care

Have you ever been so busy that you've neglected to recommend services included in your hospital standards of care? Patient care suffers when doctors don't provide consistent care. Those overlooked recommendations are causing your practice to hemorrhage revenue, and you can't afford that. If you haven't created standards of care for your hospital, it's time to start. Here's how:

> Start small with your most common procedures and progressively work your way through all of your offered services. Ask separate teams of one doctor, one technician, one veterinary assistant, and one receptionist to draft standards. Tweak them as necessary.

> Once your standards are in place, train your doctors and staff members—and keep training them—to adhere to them.

> Set compliance goals for doctors and staff—for instance, 80 percent of all patients will receive fecal exams. To do that, get rid of weak recommendations like "You might want to consider bringing a fecal sample the next time you and Fido come in." Substitute strong ones: "It's important to check Fido for parasites, so when you bring him in in six months, bring a fecal sample with you. The technician will provide a container for you, and when you check out the receptionist will schedule the next exam."

> Make sure everyone, from the practice owner to the veterinary technicians to the kennel attendants, sends the same message to clients. Discuss criteria and phrases to use with clients when talking about standards during education meetings Be clear, concise, and specific in your recommendations to cut down on confusion.

Don't fret if clients don't accept your recommendations. Just include the recommendation when you call, mail, or e-mail the client a reminder of the upcoming visit. Implement and enforce your standards with the goal of providing high-quality care while nurturing client relationships, cultivating happy and productive doctors and team members, and enjoying a fun, profitable practice.

This economy can make even the most optimistic veterinarian a cautious and demoralized businessperson. Don't let that be you. A very small thing—a kitten, a puppy, a tiny rabbit—can make a big difference in someone's life. In the same way, any of the small tips above—if they inspire and motivate you—can make a big difference in your life. Take the tips above and use them to make a big impact on your revenue, your clients' satisfaction, and you and your team's passion for practice.

Denise Tumblin, CPA, is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member. Helen Hoekstra is a financial and valuation analyst. Both work at Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates in Columbus, Ohio.

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