Every day presents new PR opportunities


Why does the public have such a divergent view of veterinary and human medicine? Much of the perception can be traced to television shows that depict, kindly, but not very savvy veterinarians, the leadership of organized veterinary medicine not being more proactive, and much of it is certainly due to the natural consequence of the differing values placed on animal versus human life.

Why does the public have such a divergent view of veterinary and humanmedicine?

Much of the perception can be traced to television shows that depict,kindly, but not very savvy veterinarians, the leadership of organized veterinarymedicine not being more proactive, and much of it is certainly due to thenatural consequence of the differing values placed on animal versus humanlife.

Realistically, whatever problems DVMs have image-wise, we know it isa situation that will not be easily or quickly rectified.

Fortunately, each practitioner, every day can take some responsibilityand demonstrate competencies to clients, thereby elevating the public awarenessof the profession's medical and technical achievements. Personal effortswill pay immediate dividends in greater respect, personal satisfaction,and, hopefully, in financial benefits.

Many of the following image-enhancers are not capital intensive and caneasily be integrated into the average practice with planning, budgetingand delegation. Others will necessitate increases in the practice's capitalexpenditures or personnel.

1. Dress the part "Dress for success" is not an idlephrase lifted from the pages of G.Q. or Women's Wear Daily. There are directcorrelations demonstrated between your manner of dress and the client'sbuying decisions. Recent business publications such as the Wall Street Journaland Fortune have sounded the death knell to the casual office attire trendand are heralding the return of the suit and tie. Dress as a person whoshould be respected and whose advice should be heeded. This applies to everyoneon staff.

2. Staff training Training your staff to understand and be ableto discuss basic diseases, medications and protocols is so important. Poorcommunication from your staff can undermine the best of client relationships.It is also very important in choosing staff who use correct grammar. Standardizingresponses for common medical questions will enhance your client's confidencein your practice.

3. Hospital tours Hospital tours allow the client to see areasof veterinary medicine that normally are beyond their view and have beenleft to their imagination. The ability to see and understand veterinarymedicine in a tangible form can be very powerful.

4. Pagers Providing digital pagers for clients with hospitalizedor surgical patients allows you to notify them immediately of changes inthe patient's status. They also eliminate the frustration of trying to contacta client who is not at the number they gave you on the treatment authorizationform. Pagers can be controlled through most carriers using a program onyour computer and the Internet.

5. Timely call backs Designated staff members who contact clientsand discuss patient status in understandable medical terminology help establisha caring image with clients. The same is true with calls to discuss thecondition of released patients.

6. Communication of lab results How many times have you had toinitiate calls to a physician to find out about your laboratory results?The ability to deliver test results to clients quickly and integrate theresults into the treatment protocol will easily impress your clients.

7. Your hospital Your hospital doesn't have to be a "Hospitalof the Year" award winner to be kept spotlessly clean, well decoratedand well maintained. Everything from your landscaping and signage to theequipment and neatness of your front desk sends a message to the clientabout your approach to veterinary care.

8. Respect for the doctor Respect for the doctor begins with thestaff. All staff should address you as such while in the professional atmosphereor when referencing you in patient dialogue.

9. Brochures The computer age, Paper Direct Catalogue and digitalphotography have made brochures affordable and accessible to most practices.These brochures may be as involved or as simple as your taste dictates,but should emphasize the services available at your practice. Have severalpeople proofread your work prior to printing. Relying on spell check tocatch mistakes can be unwise and nothing is more damaging than having abrochure with misspellings and grammar errors.

10. Educational handouts An educational handout is easier thana brochure. Use the handout to discuss the expected protocol of treatmentand expected outcomes for the pet based on the differential diagnosis. Preparehandouts for the 10 most common diagnoses that you encounter in your hospital.These handouts will not only help the client remember what you explainedto them in the exam room but will also give you the opportunity to showcaseyour abilities in diagnostics and treatment. If you have a hospital brochuretry and coordinate the appearance of the handout with the brochure. (Anotherhint: If you have a predominant accent color in your hospital, try to coordinatethis color in your printed material.)

11. Community involvement Veterinary and staff involvement inthe community with younger individuals such as scouting, Future Farmersof America, 4H or schools give your hospital the opportunity to educatea new generation and possibly the parents, also.

12. Glass-walled surgery suite These architectural enhancementsallow clients to observe a very technical aspect of your practice. A wordof caution here. Many clients would perceive what we consider to be normalas offensive. I recently had a client who found the presence of a bucketin the surgery suite to be offensive. Be very judicious about your use ofthis enhancement.

13. Video cameras Placing video cameras in your hospital thatallow clients to observe behind the scenes activity is another method ofeducating clients. Again, this can be problematic and puts you and yourstaff in the position of possibly offending a client. Many clients may findthis behind-the-scenes vision to be fascinating, but use this feature judiciouslyas well. One twist on this would be allowing clients to observe their hospitalizedor boarding pet. This would be very appreciated if the client was away andunable to visit the pet personally or if a personal visit would be upsettingto them.

14. Web pages A professionally designed Web page with many picturesdisplaying the full array of equipment that is now found in state of theart veterinary hospitals can be an educational and positive promotionalpiece. Be sure that your Web page is updated regularly and is free fromoperational problems.

15. Acquiring, using latest technology Television has educatedthe public about new medical technology. They will expect this technologyto be available for their pet. Has your practice considered telemedicine,digital radiographs, digital monitoring equipment, digital tonometry andthe wide variety of other equipment that is currently available? Does yourpractice provide it, use it and have you informed your client base of itsavailability?

Make it pay

Give yourself permission to charge for your investment in technologyand human resource competence.

Don't expect the public to appreciate the level and sophistication ofmedicine without appropriately charging for that knowledge base as wellas the educational investment and capital requirements to maintain yourlevel of sophistication and competence. Don't expect your appropriate chargingto be met with 100 percent acceptance by clients. There are always thosewho will price shop, compare and complain. My staff has developed a responsefor these clients, "That's not the level of care we provide at (insertyour hospital name.)"

Recent surveys suggest that under-charging for services may imply thatyou are not proficient or up-to-date in terms of technology and education.Practices that charge a higher fee generally have a client base that ismore satisfied with the level of services received.

Dr. North is a consultant in the division of management consultationservices of Owen E. McCafferty, CPA, Inc., Cleveland. He is practice managementcertified from Michigan State University. His special areas of interestinclude electronic technology implementation, front office organizationand management, human resource and leadership training, and internal andexternal marketing programs.

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