That device in your pocket does a lot more than make calls-it's a powerful client communication tool. Here's how to maximize the technology to make your interactions with equine clients more efficient.
When it comes to advanced technology in practice, many of us equine types are like kids in a candy store. Where would we be without portable laboratory modules, handheld ultrasound units, and direct digital radiography?
But with all the shiny bells and whistles we work with every day, it's easy to overlook what's right in front of us—and our clients—that can facilitate communication.
Not too long ago, it wasn't uncommon for equine veterinarians to carry a hard copy schedule around. A pager initiated communication between home base and a client. The system was simple and functional, but more options exist today. Our cell phones have evolved from five-pound bricks with barely any reception to slim models that slide into a pocket, weigh ounces, and have enough battery life to last the day.
And now has come the smartphone. While the Blackberry and iPhone are out in front of the competition, today every wireless company has its own version of an Internet-ready data phone.
Here are five ways your smartphone can help you dial up the dialogue in your practice.
1. Know when to text
A phone call remains the only form of electronic communication that captures tone of voice and other nuances of conversation, but it does have drawbacks. For one, phone calls are possible only when both parties are available, which often results in an annoying game of phone tag. As a result, you can hit roadblocks that prevent you from resolving issues or receiving important information. Phone calls also take up valuable plan minutes and can burn up a lot of time as both parties—who are rarely concise—exchange information.
Several years ago, texting was used mostly by teenagers, but since then it's become a communication staple for many business professionals. Users tend to limit their comments to those that are absolutely necessary, so it's an efficient way to exchange information. You can text questions, answers, lab results, and schedule changes to anyone with a cell phone. Participants can send, receive, and respond to messages in their own time. One of the greatest benefits of text messaging is that messages remain in place until you delete them. This is ideal for veterinarians who want a record to refer to later.
Also, with text messaging, a client or team member can text you a callback message along with a phone number, and you can simply touch the number to call rather than recording the number and dialing.
2. Open up your scheduling options
The days of the hard copy schedule could be over, depending on your willingness to invest in some technology. While a wireless link to practice scheduling software might be the optimum solution, there's an interim step for veterinarians interested in a less-expensive approach.
Several scheduling programs sync with data-ready smartphones and can send schedule updates automatically. For anyone with Microsoft Outlook and a smartphone, paperless scheduling is a small investment away. Apple's MobileMe software lets a computer and an iPhone use the "cloud" as a data storage area, while Google's scheduling software offers the same function to any phone. The cloud is a secure Internet-based storage option proprietary to software programs.
After you download the software and configure your computer and phone, data transmits to and from each device on a schedule set by the operator—it may also transmit on demand. This allows you to include information that may have been restricted by the space limitations of a piece of paper. You need only open the appointment to find extensive notes—vaccine history, lab results, and client comments.
3. Get e-mail on the go
The early days of e-mail found us chained to our desks in front of a computer. But e-mail has expanded since the advent of Internet-ready phones. Similar to texting, e-mail lets participants take action when their schedules allow but also provides the format for more lengthy and detailed communication.
The options are limitless. Staff members can send you documents to review. Clients can e-mail questions and patient updates, and you can view reference lab reports while you're in the field. Keep in mind that if you provide an e-mail address to clients, they'll start using it—so be prepared to respond to e-mails when you receive them. If you don't have an e-mail address for clients, set one up for free with Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo.
4. Find the right place
Map devices using GPS are a must for ambulatory practitioners. Higher-end models offer voice commands that provide step-by-step directions. Less advanced applications are often standard on data-ready smartphones. While map devices are important, always remember that they function only as well as the information provided to them. Get directions from the client as a backup.
5. Encourage clients to take photos or videos
Every picture may not be worth a thousand words, but pictures can help track patient progress for cases with visual elements. And how many times have you responded to a reported problem only to find that the horse didn't display those characteristics when you watched? Many phones offer the ability to take short videos and send them by text or e-mail, allowing a client to show you what's happening when you're not around.
I recently talked to a handful of ambulatory practitioners and found that most are employing only a cell phone with texting service. But nearly every veterinarian I talked to indicated an interest in other capabilities, especially software that could sync with their office and update in real time. It's possible—and it's not hard to set up.
So the next time you engage in communication that's aided by technology, put some thought into how you could expand it. While there's no substitute for face-to-face interaction, even the most technologically conservative clients are looking for new ways to reach you.
Kyle Palmer, CVT, is practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic, a mixed practice in Silverton, Ore.