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How to effectively use technology to position your practice for success (Proceedings)

Article

Do you embrace technology or shy away from it? Technology should not be a dirty word but instead a helpful tool to drive your practice to its next level of excellence. By technology, I am referring to web sites, electronic medical records (paperless practice), email reminders, internet shop sites and yes, even the purchase of new equipment such as digital radiology or a surgical laser. Is it all worth it? Will it make a difference in your practice?

Do you embrace technology or shy away from it? Technology should not be a dirty word but instead a helpful tool to drive your practice to its next level of excellence. By technology, I am referring to web sites, electronic medical records (paperless practice), email reminders, internet shop sites and yes, even the purchase of new equipment such as digital radiology or a surgical laser. Is it all worth it? Will it make a difference in your practice?

1) Let's talk about your veterinary software program

     a) Scheduling appointments – Once you switch to an electronic medical record system and incorporate a program that will work along with your veterinary software program you will be able to allow your clients to request an appointment via e-mail. So, if that clients wishes to contact your practice at three o'clock in the morning they can send an e-mail and request to schedule an appointment. The receptionist can review those requests the following day and respond back to the client with a set appointment time.

     b) Options and opportunities - The client can also access information about their pet if you choose so they can see the reminders that are due, medications the pet is on and even a "family album" of the pet's pictures if the practice chooses to do that. Many software programs will also allow the client to access a whole library of information. The client may look up information on a disease or medical problem and get good accurate information written in "client speak". They can also e-mail the practice with questions and/or requests. Many of these features are at the discretion of the veterinary practice so if you do not wish clients to be able to e-mail you, you can opt out of that feature

     c) Many software systems allow you to format documents so that you can fill in exam room report cards, complete discharge order forms or use drop down boxes for filling in information.

2) How do you measure appointment fill rate and doctor productivity?

     a) Practice analysis - Wouldn't it be nice if you could turn on your computer and at a glance see how it is doing from a practice management point of view. You could be able to see your total transactions for the day, your income for the day, you average per client transaction, accounts receivable, and number of new clients to name a few. All with a push of a button. You could also graph that information and e-mail it to your doctors or management team. This again is not fantasy, but available today from companies that will work with your veterinary software. This important technology will allow you to keep a finger on the pulse of your practice.

3) Email reminders - A recent study conducted by VetStreet found that adding e-mail reminders to your reminder protocol might increase your overall effectiveness by 17%. If you would figure the average veterinarian might see 3,000 clients a year, 17% would equal 510 clients. Based on a $120.00 per client transaction charge that would equate to another $61,200 of income per doctor per year, and of course a healthier patient. The costs of sending e-mail reminders are substantially less and require less involvement of your team members.

What is the most effective protocol? I would suggest you send an e-mail reminder for the first reminder. Naturally you need to make sure you have the clients e-mail address in the computer and it is up to date. But once you start communicating with your clients via e-mail you will see the sky is the limit.

     a) What should you be reminding for? Medical recalls, appointment reminders on appointments, sending them supportive medical information on problems you discussed with them, birthday cards and so much more. They will be impressed and better bonded to your practice.

4) Using the search and sort capabilities of your veterinary software program

     a) Patients seen in the past year with no future reminders - We all know that reminders are the life blood of our practice, once you switch from paper records to electronic medical records your reminder effectiveness improves, why? Because it is all right there in front of you and you see what is in the computer. Many practices have up to 30% of their clients that have been seen in the past year yet they have no future reminders. You ask how this is possible, just think of all the patients you see that have eye, ear or skin problems, did we ask them about their vaccination history, do we have a future reminder in the computer for an exam, fecal, heartworm or any vaccination? Probably not, but it you had that computer information in front of you, you would be more likely to see that those reminders were missing and get that information into the system.

      b) New Products and Services

     c) Diagnoses

     d) Code Frequency

5) Target marketing

Along with this technology comes many opportunities to help to improve the effectiveness of your practice, its communication with clients and its marketing of products and services.

     a) Dental

     b) Senior wellness

     c) And three you may have not thought of......

6) Electronic medical records - Someone once said success is easy all you need to do is give yourself a lobotomy. So let's be crazy and get out of our comfort zone and look at what some of the benefits might be of converting from a paper medical record system to an electronic one.

     a) Going to a "paperless" environment – I have helped many practices convert from paper medical records to electronic medical records and not one of them has ever wished to convert back to paper records. Think about when you use to schedule appointments on that paper appointment book; now you are scheduling appointments on the computer. Would you go back to a paper appointment book? I don't think so, but you have to make that transition first, then you can reap the rewards.

     b) Using writing tablets - Many veterinarians have found writing tablets to be a great way to go. You can actually write on the computer screen and it will convert that writing to type. Yes, it works and it works very well. Try one out before you buy a bunch of them; some people love them and some are not so crazy about them. Many practices have purchased convertibles that allow you to use either a keyboard or the writing tablet.

     c) Wireless environment

     d) Scan as you go process - Most practices that make the switch from paper to electronic medical records will scan into the computer their old medical records and then proceed from that point on in an electronic version. I normally suggest that you do what I call a scan as you go process. You can scan in the records of those patients you are going to see tomorrow or next week, today so that when they do come in they are in the computer system. At the end of the year you will have scanned in all your current clients. You can then archive the remaining files and use that space for something much more profitable.

     e) Benefits and cost savings - Think of how much time is wasted in preparing files, filing, retrieving and looking for medical records. Think what other wonderful things our receptionists could be doing if they did not have to "play" with our files. Add onto that the actual cost of the files, the paper and space to store the records and you can start to see how much paper records actually cost us in time and materials. It is amazing to me, but when we convert a practice from paper records to electronic medical records there is an overall relief of frustration within the practice and definitely more time available for the receptionists to work on reminders, recalls or other practice building activities.

One word of caution, for your electronic medical records to be legal they have to be unalterable; you cannot write something today and change it tomorrow. If there is no tracking of that change and if your software allows the change to be made you might have a problem, so check with your lawyer and software company.

7) Using digital photography in your practice

     a) Patients pictures printed on invoices and reminders

     b) Before and after dental pictures, ear problems, surgeries, etc.

     c) Boarding journals

     d) Virtual tour of your practice using a digital picture frame

     e) What about?

8) Wow your clients with technology

     a) Web Site - As part of your metamorphosis from paper to electronic, take a look at your web site. First of all do you have one and second if you do are you proud of it? In today's day and age web sites are no longer an option, but a necessity. When someone moves into a new area the first thing they are likely to do is go to the internet and do a search for veterinarians. What does your web site look like? Does it have a lot of professional photos depicting you practice and its services, or is it mostly words? Do you have pictures of your doctors and bios on them? Do you have a virtual tour of your practice so clients can see the quality and excellence of your facility?

     b) Shop Site and Internet Pharmacy on your web site - I also feel that to be competitive in today's environment it is imperative for a practice to have a shop site on their web site. Many clients find it convenient to get on the internet at 2 am and order their pet's medication or food. If you do not have a shop site on your web site, you are giving the internet pharmacies a competitive advantage. There are several companies offering to place a shop site on your web site. Be careful as you proceed. You need to make sure you can control the products that are going to be sold on the web site and the price you want your clients to pay for these products. You don't even have to carry those products in your practice; therefore, you don't have to increase your inventory. The item will come to your client directly from the distributor of manufacturer, with your practice name and return address printed on the label. How's that for service and being competitive!

9) When does it make sense to purchase new technology? - digital radiology or a surgical laser

     a) Let's look at an example - Return on Investment Digital Radiography

Things are going to change – are you going to adapt or become extinct?

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