Help! I need somebody


EVERYONE IS CAPABLE OF MULTITASKING, but equine practitioners take the gold medal: driving the truck to the next appointment, talking on the cell phone, writing invoices, and keeping up with new technology. But at what expense? And how can you manage all those jobs and still focus on providing high-quality medicine?

Everyone is capable of multitasknig, but equine practitioners take the gold medal: driving the truck to the next appointment, talking on the cell phone, writing invoices, and keeping up with new technology. But at what expense? And how can you manage all those jobs and still focus on providing high-quality medicine?

Here they come to save the day

Whether that new person helps you with billing, putting away heavy equipment, or holding a horse, delegating more will let you focus on practicing medicine. "Without help, I would only spend about a quarter of my day practicing medicine," says Dr. Katie Garrett, associate veterinarian at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. "And there are other people who are better at handling billing and paperwork than I am."

Of course, your staffing needs are different than those of a companion animal practice, especially if you don't maintain a home base. But it still doesn't make sense to try and do it all. Here's a look at the benefits of getting some helping hands.

More time—more money

Your top concern is probably that you can't afford any help at all. Stop worrying. You can afford it. Because if you have help, you'll accomplish more. "If you can see one more client a day, generate more complete invoices, and receive payment at time of service—all benefits of having support—you'll see an increase in gross revenue," says Dr. Jim Guenther, CVPM, MBA, consultant for Brakke Consulting Inc. in Asheville, N.C.

"Assistants and technicians pay for themselves by giving you more time and helping you generate more revenue," he says. But you must be willing to give up some control. "Veterinarians, by nature, are control freaks," says Dr. Guenther. "If you aren't willing to give up a little bit of control, this setup won't work out."

Dr. Miles Hildebrand, owner of Stoney Creek Equine Veterinary Services in Berville, Mich., had an associate who convinced him they needed help. "I didn't understand the long-term benefits at first, and I worried about the cost," he says. "But now that we have assistants, we get an extra call in per day. They cover their salaries without difficulty, and they make my life much easier."

Dr. Hildebrand says he views his assistants and technicians as profit centers rather than expenses. "They generate income and build great rapport with clients," he says.

Dr. Kathleen Anderson, owner of Equine Veterinary Care in Elkton, Md., hired an assistant during her second year in practice. And for her, money was never an issue. "It became obvious that the value of what we could accomplish together outweighed the cost to the practice," says Dr. Anderson. "It's far less expensive for me to hire someone to dispense medication, write up paperwork like lab forms or track down information than it is for me to do it all myself. I should be producing revenue."

Help mastering technology

Here's a benefit that's easy to overlook: New technology can take a considerable amount of time to master. But with help, you can adopt time-saving technologies earlier and learn to work more efficiently. "All this new technology has a steep learning curve," says Dr. Anderson. "My technician works through the process, irons out the kinks, and then teaches the rest of us to use it."

Dr. Anderson hopes to add wireless laptop computers to all of her trucks in the future, allowing immediate access to medical records and billing histories. "This step will make technicians even more valuable for us, because they can run to the truck, check the computer, and then communicate information back to the veterinarian."

Save your sanity

"You can still find an old equine vet out on the road by himself," says Dr. Hildebrand. "The lone vet has no idea how support staff can improve his quality of life. But more often, our colleagues are seeing the benefits of getting help."

Still feeling cautious? Start small. Hire a student to help out. "Put them on your payroll, and see how valuable they are once they've familiarized themselves with how you operate," Dr. Hildebrand says. "And because you're paying the student, you won't mind asking him or her to do things." He recommends hiring a student 18 years of age or older because of liability issues with radiography equipment and insurance restrictions when they're driving the truck.

Also, having someone with you that knows how to properly handle a horse can lift a huge burden off your mind. "The horse's safety, as well as mine, is protected," says Dr. Anderson.

Dr. Garrett says you may feel like you're spending a lot of extra time up front in training. But with this small investment, you'll gain a huge return. "You'll turn around to find the horse scrubbed up and ready to go—all while you were talking to the client and getting the horse's history," she says.

So make a list of tasks you'd like help with, and decide who could take them on for you. "Young graduates are pushing the issue and making some of the older practitioners see the benefits," says Dr. Guenther. "So you're starting to hear more and more practitioners say, 'I'll have my assistant get back to you on that.'" Great news. Next month, that could be you.

The bottom line

Are you multitasking to the extreme? Your quality of life and the quality of your work will improve if you hire help—and you'll likely increase revenue. When you've got that great new staff member in place, you'll wonder how you ever managed to get by without him or her.

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