How veterinary clients ruin everything


So you've crafted the perfect schedule. Too bad pet owners have to show up and wreck it.

Self-appointed practice management experts love to shovel advice in our direction—especially when it comes to scheduling appointments. Their recommendation is simple: Schedule each individual task for an appropriate number of minutes. For example, a nail clipping is allotted four minutes, an examination gets eight minutes and treatment of an illness receives 12 minutes.

This system works because all nail trims are the same, every exam goes smoothly and, of course, all illnesses can be treated with a quick dose of antibiotics. Add the fact that the telephone rarely rings, and you can see that it's almost impossible to fall behind schedule!


But suppose your morning goes something like this ...

Juan Moore is scheduled to have his dog's ears cleaned. You have generously allowed 10 minutes. Unfortunately, he asks, "While we're here, can he get his shots?" And then a few minutes later, "I hope you can do something about this rash of his. We've been to three other vets and nobody seems to be able to make him better." Finally, just as you're ready to send him out the door, he says, "We need to talk about the seizures he's been having lately."

This is a setback, but you can still catch up by giving your next client the bum's rush. However, Tom Hardcell from Armtwist Medical Supply suddenly walks in the door. Getting him out of the office costs you 20 minutes and a $600 order. But you can still get back on track if you simply shave a little time off of your lunch hour.

Oops! One of the receptionists tells you Justin Tyme is on the way over with a sick puppy. You'll have to squeeze him in just before lunch.

"Glad I caught you before lunch, Doc," he says. "Nicka here is mighty sick. Oh! And I brought along these other two pups who just need to have their rashes checked."

At this point you feel as if you're drowning, about to go down for the third Tyme (in this case). Just then, a lady comes in the front door sobbing.

"Help! My cat can't breathe." Stabilizing the dyspneic cat takes 30 more unplanned minutes.

Who needs lunch? I'll grab a candy bar between calls.

But then you get hit with a walk-in. It's Wanda Rinn, who's decided that this is a good day to get her dog examined since he's had diarrhea for three months. You hate to tell her to go away because she's already mad.

"You people have treated this condition twice and it still isn't better. I want it fixed. Now!"

Her record details the previous two so-called "treatments." The first was a phone call asking for free advice. The second was a dropped-off stool sample followed by a dose of worm medicine.

You decide to treat the dog, hurt the schedule a little more and maybe even skip the candy bar. You've been wanting to slim down anyway.

The rest of your afternoon is peppered with phone calls about urgent matters, such as your potential contribution to the firemen's picnic. Soon your daughter calls to let you know she's going to run away from home unless you tell her brother he has to share the iPad.

Finally Elsa Ware calls, frantic about her dog's blood tests results. You've never seen the dog and the tests were run elsewhere. But she doesn't understand what the other veterinarian told her and wants you to explain.

Each phone call throws you further off schedule. You've stopped wondering, "Where did I go wrong?" The easier question to answer is, "Where did I go right?" Don't worry. The day will end eventually—but not before one last aggravation.

Mr. Tardy is on the phone having a tantrum because your office won't stay open just 10 minutes after closing time so he can pick up his cat. He's pulled this stunt before. In fact, your staff has nicknamed him "the late Mr. Tardy." This time you deny his request and close the office as scheduled. But it's hard to fight the urge to stay open and make his nickname come true.

Dr. Michael Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

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