'Three strikes' helps reduce stress, improve efficiencies

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Veterinary practice can be fun, or it can be stressful. The trick is to figure out how to minimize stress points so you can experience enjoyment the majority of the time.

Veterinary practice can be fun, or it can be stressful. The trick is to figure out how to minimize stress points so you can experience enjoyment the majority of the time.

Some common stress points can be easily overcome. Not only do they eliminate your frustration as a doctor or manager, but the following tips can also increase employee efficiency, reduce complaints and the nitpicking that often distracts you from the daily satisfaction of working in a pet hospital.

Three-strikes rule

Diann Wallace, practice manager of Lake City Animal Hospital in Lake City Florida states her recently implemented "three-strikes" rule has made a significant difference in staff efficiency, job satisfaction and eliminated some management hassles for her. Each employee is responsible for notifying Diann of malfunctioning equipment, out-of-place items or even the occasional thought "I wish I had ..." By the third time of noticing the same problem, Diann should know about it.

Table 1. Sample requisition form

For example, if an employee reaches for an otoscope and it's not in its usual place, the employee has the responsibility to notify Diann at least by the third time it occurs. Perhaps an additional otoscope should be purchased for increased staff efficiency.

Wherever possible, Diann budgets for equipment that will help employees be more productive. Employees are able to document the need and in exchange, they are expected to prove proficiency with new equipment immediately and that its implementation propels measurable results, such as increased transactions and fee income.

Through repetition and accountability, employees have developed a useful habit: awareness. Employees quickly notice and work to rectify small snags that previously were frustrating time vampires.

When they notice a latch or doorknob isn't working or some other problem with the facility or equipment, team members let Diann know promptly so she can address the situation.

In past days, if a kennel door latch was not working, it might be ignored until a busy vacation season. At that point, the hospital would lose income because the unsecured kennel could not be used. These days, such repairs are made almost as soon as the problem is noted, and no avoidable income loss occurs.

The practice maintains an "open-door" policy. All employees enthusiastically notify Diann at the earliest moment they notice anything wrong. The practice manager is always accessible. To make the system work, Diann allows employees to call her at home if they see a problem that needs to be rectified quickly.

For less urgent issues, a want-list is conveniently located so employees can fill it out at any time. As an aside, many practices use requisition forms, such as the one depicted in Table 1.

Adopt a room

We need to pay a thank you for this next tip from Dr. Gretchen Zarle at Bartels Pet Hospital in Brecksville, Ohio. Dr. Zarle picked up the idea when she was shopping at a large retailer. She noted that store management designated areas of employee responsibilities through strategically displayed wall placards.

She adapted this idea of employee responsibility in her own hospital. Each employee has adopted a room in the hospital. During a visit, we noticed and remarked on a small sign on the laundry room wall that read "Laundry-room supervisor: Jessica."

Each employee is proud of his or her space and keeps it well-organized and immaculate. The neatness of Jessica's laundry room was impressive; everything was organized and in its place. Shelves were neat and orderly. The floor was clean and all of the lights worked.

The doctor reports the hospital stays much cleaner and well-organized than before employees adopted rooms of their choice. Everyone's stress is less because things are put away in their proper places and clutter is reduced to a minimum. A needed item or piece of equipment can be located quickly.

A name to a "face"

We do not recall the origination of this next tip, but it was from outside the veterinary profession. It addresses a common practice manager concern: abused and broken equipment. Medical equipment is often quite delicate and expensive to repair. As a veterinarian, it causes me great angst to see broken fibers in an expensive endoscope or to find basic items of equipment, such as hoof testers and twitches, left carelessly in an aisle, on the floor or even outside in the parking lot.

An owner's nerves must twitch when hearing the copy machine's lid slam abruptly.

Employees consider equipment (whether computer, medical or otherwise) as inanimate objects. Employee respect sometimes seems lacking for all sorts of expensive and necessary equipment, such as ultrasound probes, X-ray machines, delicate ophthalmic instrumentation, endoscopes and practice vehicles.

You might want to try this: Consider naming your equipment with human monikers and place name labels on particularly valuable items. Recently, we upgraded our expensive copy machine. It was immediately baptized "Roz" and replaces our prior machine that has been moved to a new use, and copies to the name of Alfie.

We are sure your employees will come up with additional great ideas that help keep the practice orderly, clean and less stressful. Granted, some days will be better than others, but think how much easier all will go when you can locate a stethoscope where you need it and when you need it, or know plenty of clean towels are available and neatly stacked in the laundry room when the emergency C-section arrives at 2 a.m.

Dr. Heinke is owner of Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc. and can be reached at (440) 926-3800 or via e-mail at MLHeinke@aol.com.

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