Promoting consistency at your veterinary practice

March 15, 2021
Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA

dvm360, dvm360 April 2021, Volume 54,

Help your team go from frazzled to focused with step-by-step processes and task checklists. Here’s why, plus tips to get started.

Do you get frustrated when you open a surgical pack, and it looks different than the last time you opened one? How about when someone answers the phone differently each time? Or the end-of-day report is not in the safe when you arrive in the morning? Or the lab work is not put out for overnight pick up? Are you fuming with anger? Do you want to punch a wall? Are you screaming 4-letter words?

The above mistakes result from inconsistency in practice protocols and procedures. To help stop this unproductive cycle, create standard processes and task checklists.

Breaking it down

Think of a process as a recipe. Each time you cook a recipe, you might tweak it a bit, but the recipe is essentially the same. If you follow the instructions step by step—you have the correct ingredient list, the right utensils, and the oven is at the right temperature—your recipe should taste the same each time without fail.

Shouldn’t you be able to say the same thing for spay pack preparation, end-of-day balancing out, a urinalysis, in-house laboratory testing, phone answering, credit card processing, client greetings, cage cleanings, etc.?

Delineating and documenting your processes increases efficiency, saves time, and gives you peace of mind. So, where do you start? Document your processes by either creating videos of the tasks and storing them in folders on your server or writing them down using the following template:

This is how ABC Animal Hospital:

  • Answers the phone for a new client
  • Cleans a cat litter box
  • Runs a complete blood count
  • Balances out at the end of a shift
  • Pays a credit card bill

You can organize processes by hospital zone. For example, create separate operations manuals for reception/client services, technical and animal care areas, and management.You can add additional zones if needed or create chapters in the manual for the exam room, radiology, pharmacy, boarding, bathing, grooming, etc. It isn’t important how you organize the manuals, just document all processes and make them easily accessible to all employees.

Why checklists work

Remember the game of “telephone?” Sure you do! You whisper a few sentences into one kid’s ears, they repeat it to the next kid, and it continues around the circle. You then ask the last child to repeat what they heard. Most of the time, the response is nothing like the originally-whispered statement. This game parallels how most veterinary hospitals train new hires. Operations manuals and documented processes will allow you to well-equip new associates, setting them up for success.

I first saw an operational checklist on the back of the door of a McDonald’s bathroom. The laminated-checklist included key tasks, who performed them, plus a time chart to sign off upon task completion.

Veterinary practices could benefit from checklists to help team members remember to:

  • Put out the lab work
  • Open the anesthetic pop-off
  • Add fluoride to cleaned teeth
  • Send out reminders
  • Medicate boarding animals

Checklists are memory-jogging tools that ensure that proper questions are asked (history), information is shared (release instructions), details are provided (new client appointments), and that services are performed completely and thoroughly.

We are so accustomed to being busy that it’s easy to forget things. So, consider checklists for:

  • New client appointments
  • Surgical patient check-ins
  • Surgical patient releases
  • End-of-day receptionists
  • End-of-day technicians
  • Beginning-of-day animal caretakers
  • Bathing
  • Dentistry (one for each grade of dental disease)
  • Anesthetic machine preparation

Type up your checklists. Then, laminate them and post them on the wall, or hang them on the anesthetic machine. Trust me, doing so can help you avoid mistakes that could cause harm (or death) to a patient or damage a relationship with a client. The bottom line? Most errors are avoidable if we focus on consistently performing tasks accurately and thoroughly. What better way to do that than using checklists and following consistent protocols?

Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA, is executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, co-author of The E-Myth Veterinarian with Michael Gerber, and a veterinary coach at simplesolutionsforvets.com.

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