Matthew Salois, PhD
A recent analysis by the AVMA revealed that veterinary hospitals with more technicians and other non-DVM staff are likely to operate more efficiently.
Having highly skilled veterinary technicians on our hospital teams is vital to business success. With National Veterinary Technician Week approaching (October 13-19), there's no better time to honor these valuable team members and celebrate all they do for the profession. It's also a perfect opportunity to better understand and commit to fully utilizing their diverse skills in practice. Proper technician utilization can boost team morale, reduce turnover and free up more of our veterinarians' time for work that only they can do.
Getting the mix right
Research over the years has shown clear links between increased use of credentialed technicians and higher practice revenue. Each year, the AVMA surveys practice owners across the country to identify patterns in staffing, revenue, animals seen and other operational matters. Drawing from 2017 survey data, we compared characteristics among companion animal practices and identified those practices that were operating most efficiently. We measured efficiency by comparing resources used, including staffing and other variables, against total practice revenue and number of patients seen.
From this economic research, we have identified benchmarks you can use to assess staffing levels in your own practice. Specifically, the combination of staff members has a bearing on how efficiently your practice runs because your veterinarians, technicians and other staff work together to form a unified team.
The optimal mix of non-DVM and DVM staff depends on several factors, including practice type and size, the demand for veterinary services in your area and the availability of qualified veterinary professionals. In general, our analysis showed that the higher the ratio of non-DVM to DVM staff, the more efficient a practice is. In other words, the more technicians and other non-DVM staff you have supporting each veterinarian, the more likely your hospital is to operate efficiently. In fact, the most efficient practices identified in our analysis had more than six non-DVMs on staff for every DVM.
We also evaluated the balance between veterinary technicians and veterinarians in efficient practices. Here, we found that the most efficient practices tend to have at least one more technician than veterinarian on the team-although, again, there were variations by practice type and size.
Tying talent to tasks
As you evaluate staffing levels in your practice, you might identify opportunities to shift tasks in ways that use more of your technicians' advanced skills. Well-trained technicians are capable of a wide range of clinical tasks. In addition to typical roles such as taking patient histories and collecting specimens, they can perform simple medical procedures, assist in surgery and provide specialized nursing care. Many have specialty training in areas ranging from dental care to anesthesia to behavior.
The 2016 demographic survey conducted by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) identified underutilization of skills as one of the top problems facing credentialed veterinary technicians. To learn more, the AVMA has been collecting data on how the most efficient practices utilize their technicians. We'll begin sharing the findings at our Annual Economic Summit in October.
So, how can you determine whether you're using your technicians to their full potential? A simple way to start is by asking them. Give them an opportunity to tell you about clinical skills they aren't using and which of their current duties don't require their technician training. These conversations should be open and candid, discussing the strengths and passions of each individual team member. You also might ask your associate veterinarians whether any of their own tasks could be performed by technicians. This could shed light on some quick opportunities to shift work from veterinarians to technicians or from technicians to other team members.
As you reassess staff roles and how you use veterinary technicians in your practice, these additional resources can help:
avma.org/Technicians: Information and resources including a career brochure and list of veterinary technician duties by state
axon.avma.org: Two CE webinars on technician utilization on AVMA Axon
navta.net: NAVTA's website
Once you've assessed staff capabilities and the division of labor at your practice, look for ways to close any skill gaps through training, mentoring or hiring. If you're looking to have your current technicians take on new tasks, encourage them to focus on relevant areas when choosing continuing education.
Tools to help you
The AVMA is committed to helping practices use all team members as efficiently as possible. That's why we recently formed the AVMA Task Force on Veterinary Technician Utilization. This task force is developing a comprehensive plan to improve technician utilization by examining issues that impact technicians, teams and practices. These include financial and career sustainability, task delegation and the wellbeing of both technicians and the practices in which they work.
We will provide updates about the task force's progress on our AVMA@Work blog (atwork.avma.org). In the meantime, you can take a deeper dive into our analysis of highly efficient veterinary practices in the 2019 Economic State of the Veterinary Profession report, which is available for free download by AVMA members. See avma.org/EconomicReports.
Matthew Salois, PhD, is chief economist and director of the Veterinary Economics Division at the AVMA.