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Waste not, want not


With just two hands-and so many hours in a day-delegating tasks that don't require a DVM makes sense. Yet our study shows doctors spend several hours each week performing tasks they could pass on.

"THERE ARE ONLY FOUR ESSENTIAL DOCTOR tasks: diagnose, prescribe, perform surgery, and chart," says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Craig Woloshyn, owner of Animal Medical Clinic in Spring Hill, Fla., and Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting. Yet results from the 2006 Veterinary Economics Business Issues Study show that doctors aren't living by this guideline. Twenty-two percent of respondents spend one to two hours a week giving injections, for example. (See Figure 2 for more.)

While only one to two hours a week may seem like a blink, the hours—and the cost—add up over the course of year. At an average private-practice veterinarian's salary of $43.45 per hour, according to the "Economic Report on Veterinarians and Veterinary Practices," AVMA, 2005, those injections could cost the practice $4,519 per doctor per year.

Figure 1

If you pay a technician's average salary of $13 per hour instead, a figure that comes from the AVMA study, you spend $1,352 per year—and save more than $3,000 per year.

Multiplied across all the tasks that doctors could potentially delegate to support staff members, the results of this one strategy could really help the your bottom line. "Your time is the most expensive commodity in the clinic and you must use it wisely for the practice to thrive," Dr. Woloshyn says .

Of course, some tasks, such as client education, you'll also want to do, and rightly so. The good news: Respondents report spending more time per week on this function than on any other one asked about in the study. Thirty-nine percent spend more than 6 hours per week.

Other tasks are better left to others. "Giving away your jobs will make your practice run smoother, allow you to provide better patient care, and make your clients happier," says Dr. Woloshyn. "Tapping the synergy of a team rather than relying on one individual always provides superior results."

Figure 2

Learning to delegate

Want to delegate more, but not sure where to start? Dr. Woloshyn says these are the six essential steps:

1. Define the result. Explain precisely what you need done, so team members know when they've accomplished the goal.

2. Choose the right person. Generally, the right person for the job can just barely complete the assignment with some thought and difficulty. After all, learning only occurs when people perform at the edge of their comfort zone.

3. Forget the process. Don't tell people how to do jobs. Let them use their own problem-solving capabilities and ask for advice if they need it. Generally, they'll astound you with their answers to problems.

4. Give them the authority. People who handle tasks must have the authority to involve others, buy new supplies, or change procedures. If there's a lot of money involved, give limits; otherwise let them choose.

5. Go away. When you hand over a job to a team member, don't look over his or her shoulder. Don't ask every day (or hour) if there's progress. When there's a result, your team member will tell you, and you can evaluate it.

6. Reward a task well-done. First, offer praise in front of your team. Sometimes monetary awards are appropriate, but usually praise and a token gift are better. (For more on rewards, see "Make it Rewarding".)

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