Is your veterinary practice forward thinking about forward booking?
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.
On Christmas eve, do you want to be visited by the Ghost of Opportunities Past? Then it's time to check out tips from these inspiring contest winners trying to talk clients and your practice management into forward booking.
The Ghost of Appointments Future helps a pet owner face his regrets about failing to make a more timely wellness appointment. (Photo courtesy of Animal Healthcare Clinic of Southlake)
Check out the hard work from the first-place and second-place winners of the "Forward Booking Works!" testimonial contest, run by Partners for Healthy Pets with the Veterinary Medical Association Executives. These videos and articles spell out the benefits of forward booking to veterinary clients, team members-and, now, you. See the complete list (with honorable mentions, too!) at vmae.org/forward-booking-contest-winners.
> "The Ghost – Forward Booking" video from Animal Healthcare Clinic of Southlake in Southlake, Texas
> Fayetteville Animal Clinic in Fayetteville, Tennessee (video)
> City Cat Doctor in Chicago, Illinois (article PDF)
> SouthCare Animal Medical Center in Spokane, Washington (video)
> Animal Family Veterinary Care Center in Davenport, Iowa (article PDF)
> Cleveland Road Animal Hospital in Wooster, Ohio (article PDF)
What does it take to make change in veterinary practices?
In the case of a contest this year from veterinary advocacy group Partners for Healthy Pets and the Veterinary Medical Association of Executives, it was a turnkey campaign. To promote forward booking-the practice of making the next veterinary appointment during the current appointment-the two organizations created tools for state VMA directors to share with hospitals: advertisements, newsletter content, Facebook posts, letter templates and more.
They also pledged $10,000 in prizes for practices associated with those VMAs to create and share what's been working in forward booking in their hospitals this year.
To further inspire, we've got a few tips from some of the winners about their entries and their efforts in making sure pets don't leave hospitals without the helpful reminder of the next visit on the books.
Forward booking pro tip
"It helps if the veterinarian passes the baton by saying, for example, 'Shannon will get you scheduled for your next yearly appointment,'" says practice manager Bobbie Cotton. "Or 'We need to schedule that in three months, so Shannon will get that scheduled for you.' We get better compliance."
'When you give clients the opportunity to say "no," it's hard to go back'
What do you call it? "We started forward booking back in 2009. We call it 'pre-appointing.'" What's your goal? "Seventy-five percent of appointments. We don't always make it, but we do have clients fill out a pre-appoint card and we compare the number of those with the number of wellness exams and figure the percentage from there."
What's your biggest hurdle? "New staff tend to have the most difficulty. They're in the habit of asking clients 'yes' or 'no' questions, instead of saying, 'I'll book your appointment for next year on a similar date and time, a few weeks before the due date. That way, if you need to reschedule for a more convenient time, there's time to do so.' When you give clients the opportunity to say “no,” it's hard to go back."
How's it going? "Some clients still don't want us to pre-appoint, which is why our numbers fluctuate, but the majority are getting used to it and expect it from now on. We're really just fine-tuning now-sending out the reminder card after checking the address for accuracy and the pet to make sure they're still with us, and verifying that the appointment date/time is still with the DVM they want to see."
- Bobbie Cotton, practice manager, Animal Family Veterinary Care Center, Davenport, Iowa
Forward booking pro tip
"We don't ask if we can book them for next year. We let them know this is how we're scheduling now, so they don't have to worry about booking. It's to help us stay up to date with all the vaccines, so McFluffy can stay as healthy as possible," says practice manager Laurel Brewster. "We also have clients fill out their address on reminder cards, so when it comes in the mail, they recognize their handwriting and are more likely to look at it."
'Now our clients love it'
What do you call it? "We call it pre-appointing, for ourselves and with clients."
What's your biggest hurdle? "At first, the room assistants were reluctant. It felt like just another thing they had to do on top of getting notes filled in for the doctor, checking out in the room, and the rest. However, within a few months, they had a routine down."
How's it going? "We began forward booking in May 2016. By the end of 2016, we had 171 appointments booked. As of mid-November this year, we had 818 appointments booked. We're already seeing a huge jump in owner compliance. Now our clients love it. They usually ask, 'Are you going to send me that little postcard?' or, 'Can we schedule this like we did last year?' Clients love it. We let them know that no one knows what they're doing a year from now, but when they get the reminder postcard, we can find a time that best suits their schedule."
- Laurel Brewster, practice manager, SouthCare Animal Medical Center, Spokane, Washington