What veterinarians can learn from dentists

December 13, 2019
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Vetted, Vetted January 2020, Volume 115, Issue 1

Could dentists teach DVMs a thing or two about business focus, scheduling and client service?

Try some of these tactics from dentists on the human side to see if you can't make your clients and patients smile. (shutterstock.com)

Because they start their own small businesses after school and they've got advanced medical degrees, dentists and veterinarians have long been compared together in business. And the cliché has always been that, because they're more money motivated, dentists pick up on better business practices faster than their veterinary brethren.

Practice manager Brian Conrad, CVPM, still thinks this is true, and he turned to his wife (a dental office manager) to find out what techniques she uses in her day-to-day work that improve revenue and client relations. See what you can learn from a few of the tips he shared in his session at Fetch dvm360 in Kansas City.

Huddle up!

Conrad has heard of 30-to-45-minute morning huddles before doors open at dental practices for the entire team to go over the patients coming that day, their personal preferences, the services expected and potential revenue for those services. At the end of the day, teams reconvene to check actual revenue against expected and see how things compare. With many dental cases, dentists know exactly what's expected with a patient, while veterinarians might feel more in the dark with their cases. But, it's worth taking a swing at an average invoice amount for the average cat or dog, or a case coming with a particular condition, and finding out why pet owners agreed to or turned down products and services. You could learn a lot from this practice.

These huddles mirror a bit the start of clinical rounds that doctors might remember from school or that take place at larger hospitals, but the focus is on finances, client service and client compliance. There are no rules about how long you need to meet or what you want to cover in your huddle, but would it hurt to build up some regular thinking and accountability as a team surrounding client service? (Hint: probably not.)

What does a hole in your schedule look like to you?

For dentists, Conrad says a hole in the schedule is a bad thing. In veterinary medicine, he says, some doctors might joke, “A cancellation? I get to go to the bathroom this morning!”

Which is to say, dentists are wildly proactive about maximizing their time working and helping as many people as possible in a workday (and they probably don't see many exhausting emergencies). They hire full-time schedulers who spend 40 hours a week filling gaps, and Conrad says they earn multiples of their salary in revenue.

Conrad had a thought experiment: What if you put up a job advertisement for $45,000 for a full-time scheduler to cover your phone and your email systems with the task of filling each day with appointments? Could you earn that money back quickly? (He did not suggest every attendee run out and tell their teams to advertise for the position. Just think about what that would look like!)

There are many ways client service representatives or automated reminder and email systems might help with filling empty slots, generating more revenue and helping more pets.

And you've started forward scheduling, right? Conrad pointed out one statistic that more than 80% of dental practices schedule appointments during visits, while as little as 5% of veterinary practices do.

Who's in charge here?

Many pet owners will agree to services when they don't understand or agree with the need, pay their invoices at the front desk with a smile, then never show up again. If your rules, your scheduling, your hours and your brand of client service all tell pet owners that you're in charge, not them, you can expect less loyalty all the time, according to Conrad.

“I want you thinking about your attitude,” Conrad told attendees. “What parts of your business tell clients you're in charge? Even if they're not in charge of everything, they should feel that way.”

Dentists give kids toys, offer remotes to personal TVs in exam chairs and try to make experiences as pleasant as possible. It's as small as giving choices, recognizing pet owner preferences and making it easier for them to do business with you. And when you get the inevitable request from a clinic down the road for medical records for a “mutual client” who's in your database, why not have a truly tactful team member reach out to the departing client and ask why and how you can do better for clients in the future? It's not to guilt them back, Conrad says, but to improve how you work with the pet owners who keep your doors open.

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