Equine vet techs deserve a seat
Kyle Palmer, CVT
Long-time dvm360 magazine and Firstline contributor Kyle Palmer, CVT, is hospital manager for VCA Salem in Salem, Oregon, as well as a practice management consultant for a number of other hospitals.
Before the day starts, on the way to every visit, and wowing horse owners: The equine veterinary technician is a must-have passenger (or driver) for great mobile equine practice today.
Open up your mobile equine practice to a veterinary technician. (Shutterstock.com)For mobile equine veterinarians, preparation is important: preparation for specific cases, planning a logical and efficient route of travel from appointment to appointment, and ensuring that the practice vehicle is appropriately stocked. You'd never leave the driveway in a vehicle with no vaccines, no antibiotics, no tools or no medical supplies, so why should you go anywhere without the most important thing in the truck: your veterinary technician or assistant?
Even if you've already embraced the daily use of an assistant, this person is more than just a warm body. Your working partnership can have a major impact on efficiency. If you're not using one? Hire one. Now.
What can an equine vet tech do for you? Well, first off, if your state Veterinary Practice Act says your technicians can do it, let 'em do it. I won't downplay the benefits of lending a hand or showing your staff you're not above the dirty work, but unless you've got absolutely nothing else to do (and I mean nothing), leave your technician to it. Here are nine tasks that are perfect for a tech.
1. Your technician … takes first look at the schedule
Although schedules change, your technician should start the day by reviewing every appointment, ensuring you have the right medications and equipment for those visits. The technician should also be checking every patient's medical history for ongoing concerns, vaccine or deworming needs, and any other relevant information. Your client's satisfaction will go through the roof when you and your technician call the horse by name and demonstrate a knowledge of its history and needs.
2. Your technician … optimizes your route
The technician should make sure addresses and phone numbers are current and look for ways your route can be made more efficient. Perhaps switching the order of two nearby calls will help travel time? A confirmation call from the technician to each of the day's clients will ensure you don't show up to an empty barn, each horse is ready for the appointment, and you stay on schedule.
3. Your technician … checks your accounts receivable
Your technician can also review each client's accounts. How do they pay (do they pay?), and do they have a balance outstanding? A previous balance means a courtesy telephone call to remind clients of amounts owed and verify that they'll be taking care of that during today's appointment.
If the answer is “no,” that may affect whether you show up for that appointment. If the answer is “yes,” you'll save yourself the sometimes-awkward exchange in person (and you'll get paid, which I always think is a great thing). Above all, having that exchange before you drive in gets the client thinking that an agreement to pay is a requirement of your showing up-which it should be.
4. Your technician … manages your inventory
A huge part of preparation centers on something no one in our industry really loves: inventory. It's often cited as a borderline failure in many practices, despite various attempts at doing it well.
But you're in luck! Mobile practice inventory is simple to manage and should always be successful for two reasons. First, two people are involved with it on a daily basis-you and your technician. Second, 100 percent of the services you provide come out of the vehicle you're working in. What's more, you have a built-in list of what you need to put in your vehicle today because you have a record of what was sold or used yesterday. If you used it, replace it. Unless your veterinary software doesn't track medications and consumables used (and if not, you need to change), all that data is at your fingertips, right?
Wrong! That was a test and you failed.
The data is at your technician's fingertips, because you should be spending your precious time practicing medicine, not running reports.
5. Your technician … checks your ride
Not only should your vehicle be stocked and organized with the standard products and supplies, all the equipment should be in working order. Your technician can run a quick test to make sure everything operates properly, batteries are charged, water tanks are full, and everything that was taken out for cleaning or sterilization has been returned.
6. Your technician … can drive
Finally, you and your technician are ready to drive out and have a well-planned day together. There's only one decision left to be made.
It's hard to imagine a practicing equine veterinarian who doesn't have a stack of phone calls to return, so using your technician as a chauffeur while you make calls makes a lot of sense. You're also free to process medical records and research treatment options for complicated cases.
Most small animal practitioners would kill to have 15 to 45 minutes between cases to catch up on records or make phone calls.
One caveat to this: If you have a published number that rings to your phone/vehicle rather than a brick-and-mortar location with staff, let your technician answer that line. Hands-free technology has advanced to the degree that using a phone in the car can be safe and uncomplicated. Your technician may end up transferring the call to you most of the time, but answering the phone yourself sends the signal that you're not very busy.
7. Your technician … helps with exams
The last piece to this puzzle is how your technician assists you throughout the day. A technician should stage the equipment you'll need while you handle the initial client greeting. A technician should be an active participant in the examination and treatment process. Put the lead rope in the technician's hands so you can focus on speaking to the client who's focused on you. Once the diagnostic and treatment phase of a visit is complete, your technician cleans equipment, puts it all away, and gets the vehicle buttoned down and ready to leave.
Your technician can collect samples, administer dewormers and take radiographs. A licensed veterinary technician is educated, trained and dying to use these skills.
8. Your technician … enters charges and collects money
The technician can start a medical record (computerized or otherwise) and enter charges relevant to the appointment. Then you take just a moment to make sure the charges are correct and complete, then let your technician collect the balance. It's a good time to let the client know that you're going to take off your gloves or wash your hands and will be right back.
This two-minute period is vital for your technician to get some alone time to collect payment. It frees you from being the bill collector, so you remain the compassionate caregiver, and, frankly, it's going to be a lot harder for the client to ask your technician if they can “pay later.”
9. Your technician … is lining up the next visit
The second your call is over, the technician calls the next client to give them an ETA. Being late is hard to avoid in equine practice, because many variables are out of your control, but many clients are happy to know you're on the way. This call also helps make sure the client and patient will be ready on arrival.
Hiring a trained veterinary technician isn't an expense-it's an investment. And it's about time you made it.
Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a frequent contributor to dvm360.com and dvm360 magazine, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member, and practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Oregon. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.