Practices should avoid online forms


This manager says online and paper forms disconnect clients from the practice.

At our hospital, we never ask clients to fill out any forms. Why? Forms—especially online forms—can be real time-savers, but we don’t want to sacrifice the chance to talk to pet owners and discuss an issue face-to-face with them.

New-client forms and lifestyle questionnaires can be barriers to client communication. Rather than posting these forms on your practice Web site, consider reformatting them into self-guided question-and-answer templates for team members. This saves the client from filling out any forms at all.

A traditional new-client form works something like this: The client fills out the form online. A team member enters the data from the form into the client’s computer record while the client waits to be seen—or even before he or she arrives at the clinic. A team member then escorts the client and pet into an exam room.

At this point, team members have entered data into the computer, greeted the client, and led the client to a room. But what have the team members really learned about the client? And what is the client’s experience up to this point? The pet owner probably feels like the “11:30 appointment” rather than a new and valued client. When we tell clients to come early to fill out forms or ask them to print and complete the forms at home, we’re really being efficient for the sake of the team—not clients!

Now let’s look at the flow of a new-client experience without a form: The new client and pet are greeted and escorted to an exam room. The team member begins a new-client record in the room. He or she builds a rapport with the client by asking basic questions—client name, address, names of other family members, phone numbers, and so on. The client never touches a form but rather has a conversation.

Conversing with clients gives team members openings to ask questions about the pet’s health and the family’s lifestyle. Lifestyle questions are important because they can shape the veterinarian’s treatment plan. Does the dog go to the dog park or a groomer on a regular basis? Does the cat love to sit on the screened-in porch on sunny days? These conversations keep things from slipping through the cracks. Gathering information in conversation also lets the team member pick up on body language cues that would otherwise be missed on a form.

When it comes to building a relationship with a client, efficiency isn’t necessarily the goal. We look at these client interactions as wise investments rather than opportunities to streamline. We focus on efficiency during behind-the-scenes operations, not during time with clients. Seize the opportunity to develop a real relationship. It’s well worth the time.

Brenda Tassava, CVPM, is hospital administrator at Broad Ripple Animal Clinic and Wellness Center in Indianapolis.

Yes, you should ask clients to complete forms online.

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