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Maximizing the role of veterinary technicians in integrative practice

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The support roles veterinary technicians fill in both traditional and integrative veterinary practice settings are as varied as the practices themselves. Technicians are vital for creating more effective and efficient use of DVM time, and in reducing expenses by managing inventory, improving profits, bonding with clients and improving client communication. 

The aim of this article is to help DVMs and technicians create an effective dialog surrounding shared goals of professional, practice and personal growth, while improving income for the practice and its staff. Sharing insights can help generate efficient systems and procedures, which ultimately improve service delivery, patient care, work-life balance and revenue generation, while achieving a more cohesive team effort.

Connie has been an LVT with Dr. Maro’s practice for 19 years. We co-authored this article to present the perspectives of both owner and technician when it comes to successful actions that can enhance operations in integrative practice.

In our daily work, we can make many assumptions and take much for granted. As veterinarian and technician, we have worked together a long time, but while preparing this article we learned a great deal about each other’s independent and mutual goals and objectives. These are not often discussed in our daily work with patients and clients.

Practitioners need to be cognizant of the fact that technicians have insights that may not always be expressed, since technicians tend to assume a role of deference to veterinarians. Asking for technician input, and having bi-annual meetings with technicians, along with surveys of their views and practice goals, can enhance employment satisfaction. A 360° evaluation of management and ownership also improves staff communication and operations.

Surveying veterinary technicians for their insights

Practitioners can survey LVTs with questions like these, while technicians can use surveys to reflect and create a dialog with ownership/management:

  1. What do you enjoy about your current position?
  2. What one change would make your job more rewarding?
  3. What services/roles can you provide to free up the DVM or make her more efficient and productive?
  4. Which modalities do you enjoy, and are there any in which you would like to pursue advanced training?
  5. What do you least enjoy about your job?
  6. List a talent we have overlooked or underutilized.
  7. How do you see yourself most significantly enhancing revenue generation?
  8. What suggestions would you give each DVM to enhance his/ her effectiveness/skills in benefiting the practice and patients?

After reviewing the technician’s answers, ownership should schedule a prompt meeting (within two weeks) to discuss changes that mutually benefit the practice and LVT.

The LVT’s role in client communications

An LVT with experience and an understanding of conventional practice can help clients who may have fears about what to expect when seeking integrative care for their pets. This type of communication is a vital part of a technician’s duties.

Dr. Maro says her most valuable daily client interactions result from Connie’s exam room preparation with new and existing clients. “Before walking into the exam, I receive concise information regarding both the owner’s and the animal’s medical, emotional and mental state, financial expectations and limitations, scheduling abilities, and attitudes towards conventional and holistic care,” says Dr. Maro. “This preparation helps prevent surprises and allows me to budget my time from the moment I enter the room.”

To prepare a thorough briefing of relevant information, an LVT should:

  1. Become well-versed in practice philosophies, modalities and client expectations. Teach clients how to be compliant; when and how to communicate between visits; and to understand the quantity of DVM time the schedule entitles them to.
  2. Develop, along with the DVM, efficient and relevant history and intake questions.
  3. Obtain and read prior records, highlighting illnesses, vaccines and medications.
  4. Introduce clients to the practice, policies, and DVM’s goals for the animals.
  5. Interview clients about their expectations and goals for their animals’ health.
  6. Discover what prior knowledge and exposure first-time clients have had to alternative care. If a client has had a bad experience with a personal chiropractic adjustment, or lacks familiarity with Applied Kinesiology, and the DVM starts performing an adjustment or muscle testing his or her animals, the visit can become complicated and dissatisfying for all.
  7. Explain what will happen during the exam, highlighting the value of the practice’s services. For example, a DVM who performs an Eastern and Western exam, along with spinal evaluation, may be assessing a great deal about the patient, while the client may simply see it as “petting the dog”. An LVT can introduce these valuable assessments before the DVM enters.
  8. Develop proficiency in discussing finances, estimates and expectations regarding frequency and duration of care for chronic and terminal cases.

Maintain statistics/results of patient care

Technicians who maintain logs of patient diagnoses, treatments and follow-up results create valuable information for DVMs tracking responses to integrative care. This information improves credibility for your practice when clients ask, “How many cases have you treated this way and what was the average survival time after diagnosis?”

The LVT can also enter this information into the database at CuredCases.com, beginning with the very first client visit. This database is available to all veterinarians for help with cases or research purposes.

Delivering service with joy

Match passion and purpose with the roles each technician fills in the practice. If you are regularly doing the survey mentioned earlier, technicians can ponder what brings them the most joy in the practice.

For example, if you are a technician who loves hands-on work with patients, rather than running anesthesia, speak with your practice owner about attending rehabilitative therapy certification classes. Depending on the size of your practice, you may still be running anesthesia as needed, but developing a new skill and revenue center will improve profits and job satisfaction.

Inventory and financial management

Inventory management can make or break cash flow in a practice. Though many practices have computer systems that track inventory, the nature of prescribing in integrative practices makes it difficult to quantify every acupuncture needle and homeopathic pellet. Assigning a primary technician to each DVM helps the LVT keep mental track of ordering. In our practice, three different technicians are assigned to maintaining inventory supplies:

  1. One maintains and orders TCVM supplies, homeopathics and essential oils.
  2. One maintains conventional drugs.
  3. One maintains laboratory and surgical supplies and reagents.

Between these three technicians, we seldom have excess inventory or outdated items.

Technicians often facilitate “closing the deal” for cases requiring involved and chronic care. Train technicians to become comfortable with discussing the need for care, as well as the costs involved. Teaching support staff to address concerns with specific positive language saves the DVMs time, and determines the central issue for clients who are hesitant about proceeding with services. 

For example, after the DVM discusses a diagnostic and treatment plan, the technician can review a cost estimate with the client. When the client indicates uncertainty, the LVT can ask specifically what is causing the hesitation. If it’s about understanding the tests and treatments involved, the discussion can proceed. When clients still won’t commit, the technician can ask if they are concerned about the time or cost involved. This direct question often gets to the central issue more quickly.

Patient scheduling

Ideally, every veterinarian should have every appointment filled, with a lunch break in the middle of the day. Unfortunately, gaps in schedules, late appointments, nervous animals and long problem lists can keep the schedule from flowing well. LVTs can add value to their roles by reviewing the next several days’ schedules and looking for potential problems, such as patients requiring consultations on grave diagnostic results.

Here are some technician tips for improving schedules during their review of upcoming days:

  1. Call clients during one of the lighter days/times preceding their appointments to get an update or thorough history, thereby reducing interview times in exam rooms.
  2. If a particular case sounds complicated during one of these calls, suggest the client schedule a more extended appointment time (with an increased fee) or break the appointment into two visits a few days apart.
  3. Encourage clients to visit during non-peak times by offering slightly longer appointment times or shorter wait times.
  4. When demand is high, give feedback to the DVM about scheduling, which can then be modified to better fit client demands.
  5. Consider increasing office visit fees for peak times, and keep fees stable for non-peak times.
  6. If your DVM has openings and gaps in the schedule, call clients who have not recently received services. Gaps will often be filled once animal chiropractic and rehabilitative clients are reminded of the need for maintenance care.
  7. Create workshops and educational events, both in the clinic and at animal venues, such as 4-H clubs and pet stores. Education and awareness draw clients to integrative practices to fill schedule gaps.

Matters of compensation

When a technician approaches a manager looking for reviews and raises, he or she should take specific and measurable information into the meeting. This information should detail how revenue and operations have been directly enhanced by the technician’s actions since the prior review:

  1. Keep metrics regarding client contact, enhanced sales and client feedback.
  2. Detail how a scheduling activity, service or promotion of service has directly impacted the practice with client numbers, client satisfaction and revenue increases.
  3. If you would like the practice to pay for a course of study, research how you could add a new service and how much money would be generated by this service. For example, let’s say you take a course in nutrition and begin calling clients for 30 minutes daily to tell them about your DVM’s new information regarding supplements. You can document the clients called and the resulting sales.

If you have begun taking action to improve schedule flow and history taking, resulting in decreased staff overtime, document those numbers for your next review.

Considerations for practice owners

If you would like to spend more time with your family, and have more revenue so you can enjoy your hobbies, find a technician who shares your vision and goals, communicates well, and has the desire to learn and the ability to heal. Help him or her explore the many facets of integrative practice and allow his or her skills to grow.

In conclusion

Remember that the most valued technicians seek the highest level of action they can take, relative to their abilities, during both busy and slow clinic times. This means action that will generate the most return for their efforts, while delegating cleaning tasks to less highly-trained assistants. This action leads to more efficiency and revenue generation, resulting in clear justification for salary enhancements.

For technicians curious about alternative therapies, and desiring to learn more

  1. Find an alternative practice where you can shadow or work.
  2. Read IVC Journal, and publications like Animal Wellness.
  3. Join the AHVMA and attend conferences and CE events.
  4. Explore books available through the AHVMA bookstore.
  5. Become certified in an alternative modality, physical therapy, Reiki or other energy medicine.
  6. Take courses in herbology, massage, or courses for technicians through the Chi Institute or online with CIVT.
  7. Work with the practice owner to learn how you can utilize your skills, with considerations for legality and your state’s practice act, in the best way possible for the practice.

Connie Glavan is a veterinary technician at Ellwood Animal Hospital, Inc. (ellwoodvet.com). She works in integrative veterinary medicine at all three Ellwood Animal Hospital locations in the Pittsburgh area. Connie had years of experience working in veterinary clinics before attending the Median School of Allied Health Careers, where she earned her degree in Veterinary Technology. Her interest in and understanding of energy medicine have made her a valuable asset in the practices she supports.

Dr. Cynthia Maro owns Ellwood Animal Hospital, Chippewa Animal Hospital and Cranberry Holistic Pet Care, which incorporates acupuncture, animal chiropractic, rehabilitation, myofascial and physical therapies, veterinary NAET, animal massage, herbology, homeopathy, Bach Flowers and essential oils. She graduated from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1987, is a member of the AVMA, AHVMA, AAVA, IVAS and AVCA, and served on the AVCA Board from 2002 through 2007. She mentors veterinary students and speaks to several colleges’ integrative veterinary medicine organizations (ellwoodvet@msn.com).

Connie Glavan is a veterinary technician employed by Ellwood Animal Hospital, Inc. (ellwoodvet.com). She works in integrative veterinary medicine at all three Ellwood Animal Hospital locations in the Pittsburgh area. Connie had years of experience working in veterinary clinics before attending the Median School of Allied Health Careers, where she earned her degree in Veterinary Technology. Her interest in and understanding of energy medicine have made her a valuable asset in the practices she supports.