Scheduling that works for clients and staff

December 11, 2018

How my veterinary practice successfully transitioned to better staff schedules and walk-in accommodations.

This PMOY finalist took scheduling to the next level. (MicroOne/stock.adobe.com)

Transitioning from a 4/10 to a 5/8 schedule 

Due to the consistent growth of our veterinary practice since 2015, I've had to make crucial and challenging decisions that affect the staff, such as changing their schedules. Those affected most were our client and patient services departments. I changed their four/10-hour workday schedule to a five/8-hour workday schedule.

I had a few concerns as to how the staff would react. First, I worried they'd feel they were working too much when they added another workday. Second, I wondered if we had the correct number of staff to support this schedule change.

To address the first concern, an informal team meeting was held with the department supervisors and staff. No doctors, owners or management were allowed to participate, giving staff the chance to offer honest feedback without fear of repercussions. As the teams discussed the pros and cons of both schedules, it became clear that the staff felt the 4/10 setup was tiring and despite having a day off during the week, they slept most of that day and felt “out of the loop” when they returned to work. As a result, the majority of staff expressed genuine support and enthusiasm for the change to a 5/8 schedule.

The second concern was solved with simple math. Thanks to the current and anticipated growth of the practice, we found we could support the additional cost of hiring the new staff members we needed. Some of our senior staff decided they could help us train new hires, and that new responsibility came with a raise. Team members embraced the challenge and stepped up to assist with the training, making the team stronger and happier with their work/life balance-all while the practice continues to grow. 

“Team members embraced the challenge and stepped up to assist with the training, making the team stronger and happier with their work/life balance-all while the practice continues to grow.”

Adapting to an increase in walk-ins

Recently, the average number of daily walk-ins have increased from three to eight. Many of these patients are sick and require extensive work-ups. This sudden increase worried my team, who were concerned our quality of work was suffering.

I discussed our rapid walk-in increase with fellow practice managers and some of our vendors. Both confirmed that they were also experiencing this issue. To find a way to accommodate our clients as well as ensure that my staff felt we were providing quality, less-rushed care, I scheduled a weekly training. Every Wednesday, the practice closes for two hours so staff can train or retrain on various procedures as well as discuss concerns.

It was during one of these meetings that I informed my team that that other hospitals are also experiencing an increase of walk-ins and the concern of feeling rushed. To find a solution that worked for clients as well as my team, we developed this new way to schedule walk-ins to accommodate the demand.

Previously, walk-ins would be worked in by the first available doctor. This was a problem due to our schedule being packed, potentially causing the wait time to be extensive for both scheduled and walk-in appointments. Now, we assign a doctor to drop-off appointments and surgery and exam room appointments every day. We discussed assigning a doctor to specifically handle the walk-ins and placing blocks in the schedule to accommodate if a walk-in were to occur. We adjusted the schedule for the drop-off doctor to be able to handle the walk-in appointments. Since the adjustments have been made, our staff has adapted to the increase in walk-ins and feel more satisfied with the quality of care provided. Our doctors also feel they now have adequate time to perform work-ups.

Jessica Fair is practice manager at North Star Veterinary Hospital in Parkton, North Carolina. Fair is a finalist for 2018 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year.