Why equine practitioners need a ride-along partner


Hire a ride-along technician for better patient care, improved revenue -- and that extra set of hands every solo practitioner needs.

Any equine practitioner could use an extra pair of hands. Most of them are attached to clients. But dentists, family practitioners, surgeons, and our peers in small animal practice all use the equivalent of technicians and assistants-and they use them a lot. While it’s not uncommon for an equine veterinarian to employ a ride-along technician, it seems just as common for them to “fly solo,” balancing phone calls, equipment needs, recordkeeping, and client interaction without any extra help at all.

We’re behind the curve, it seems, with veterinary technicians stuck in low gear in many equine practices. We can assign some of the blame to state practice acts that focus on the role of technicians in companion animal practices but not equine ones. But it’s still equine practitioners who prefer to do everything themselves. Successful small animal practitioners have learned they’re most efficient (and profitable) when they perform tasks they’re legally required to do and leave the rest to a team member.

The traditional arguments against a ride-along technician-extra wages and the intrusion of another person into a solo practitioner’s “personal” space-don’t hold up to the many benefits of having help. Think of the ambulatory equine environment as you would a small-animal hospital. The vehicle is your pharmacy and lab, the parking area is your waiting room, and the barn or stall is your exam room. Veterinarians who practice in a brick-and-mortar clinic would be hard-pressed to manage those spaces without staff-and usually more than one.

It’s time to imagine what life could be like with some help in the truck cab, the horse stall, and the field. Check out the benefits of a ride-along partner:

Call, schedule, explain-or drive

Ambulatory practitioners spend a lot of time on the road, driving from one appointment to the next. It’s a lot of time many practitioners would love to use for callbacks, recordkeeping, or case research. So why spend it with your hands on the steering wheel when you could be sitting in the passenger seat working? Imagine having time during the day to discuss a sick patient’s lab results or answer questions about the next options for treatment. You might even want to put your ride-along technician in the passenger seat to answer the phone. However, if appointments are primarily being scheduled from another location, your technician should be driving. After all, whose time is more valuable?

Prep early—or stall

Face time with clients and patients is a valuable commodity. With the help of a technician, you can begin that interaction can begin immediately rather than five minutes into the call after you’re done preparing vaccines, medication, and equipment. Asking your technician to start preparing supplies on arrival gives you a great opportunity to greet the client, get a thorough history, and begin the physical examination without delay.

Maximize your skills—or waste them

Many states recognize a list of specific tasks that technicians may perform. Hiring a technician to perform them in your practice is a great way to increase both efficiency and revenue. Whether you’re on a big barn call or on a visit to Mrs. Smith’s to look at her only horse, there are many ways to put a technician to use during the call:

> Collecting, processing, and reading fecal samples or other cytology. Transporting a microscope lets a technician spend any downtime moving cases forward.

> Preparing and administering vaccines. Mixing a handful of these, especially intranasal vaccines, can chew up a great deal of time that could be spent productively.

> Administering dewormers.

> Preparing and labeling medications.

> Preparing and cleaning dentistry equipment.

> Restraining the patient.

> Assisting with radiographs. A properly certified technician can even take them.

Limit your liability—or hang yourself out to dry

Veterinary practice is dangerous, and most small-animal practitioners have developed ways to reduce or eliminate clients’ exposure to that risk by performing treatments away from the exam room or with the aid of staff. While it may be true that most equine clients are the most qualified people to assist with their own animals, they aren’t always the one at the barn during the visit. It’s only a matter of time before our legal system is forced to weigh in on the issue of your liability for client injuries during veterinary visits. A well-trained technician helps keep clients out of harm’s way during many procedures and allows them to be free of distraction while they listen to your assessment and answer questions relating to the patient.

Focus on the client—or wrap up the paperwork

It’s no secret that many veterinarians dread collecting payment. Some even say they’re terrible at it. So take advantage of the fact that many clients expect the transaction to be the responsibility of veterinary staff.

A ride-along technician can impact an equine visit most at the end, during that invoicing process. No matter what system you use-hand-written travel sheets, computer printouts, or a direct link to practice management software-a trained staff member can enter the fees on your behalf to ensure that another set of eyes is involved with connecting each service to a fee. A technician can also help limit (or eliminate) the tendency to subconsciously discount invoices. A technician can deliver and collect on the invoice, distancing you further from the fee end of the transaction and letting you focus on patient care and compassion. Let the staff be associated with payment for services and you with the excellent stall-side manner and medical expertise.

Delegate the details—or micromanage them

You know that once a visit is complete, the work is far from over. That’s when equine veterinarians can capitalize again on a ride-along partner. A ride-along team member can:

> Keep the practice vehicle organized and free of clutter.

> Perform the occasional “deep cleaning” required to maintain a vehicle that mirrors your practice’s professional image.

> Manage and schedule appropriate vehicle servicing.

> Perform an inventory of the vehicle, manage expiration dates, order supplies, and restock. Inventory is directly related to profitability; mismanagement can severely hurt your practice.

> Process credit card payments.

> Return nonurgent, staff-level calls to clients.

> Schedule appointments, or interact with the office if scheduling is handled by staff at a fixed location.

> Call in prescriptions on your behalf.

> Ensure that all scheduled drugs are appropriately logged after use.

> Enter medical notes into the patient record.

> Help to navigate to the next appointment.

Equine practitioners who ditch the empty passenger seat and hire a top-notch technician see the benefit fast, benefits that go directly to better patient care and a stronger bottom line. Some aspects, such as catching missed charges, represent a tangible return on investment, while others add to the professional environment of the visit. Either way, a ride-along partner is the next logical step for any equine practitioner who is still practicing alone. Medical science won’t let you grow your second pair of hands yet; this is the next best thing.

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore. Send questions and comments tove@advanstar.com.

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