For years, veterinarians have been told that the success of their practices relied on doing the jobs they were trained to do, and allowing their staff members do the jobs they were trained to do. But how many actually allow this to happen? Many veterinarians will say they were not trained to manage employees, do payroll, watch over inventory, or be the “judge, jury and trial” for unhappy clients, yet many seem to attempt to take it all on. This mentality can ostracize staff and backfire on the practice. How do we avoid this issue while ensuring we practice the best medicine and patient care possible?
The people we have working with us (not for us) should be trained in what they bring to the table. They should be the best at what they do, treated with respect, and given as much responsibility as they can successfully handle. After all, we are all in the practice for the same reason — to provide the best patient care for the animals entrusted to our care.
Does your staff know what you offer?
In my practice, I allow staff members to have their own animals treated with the holistic modalities we offer, when and as they apply, so they may gain a better understanding of what we provide, how we treat patients, and what contraindications may arise. If your staff members understand everything your practice offers, they will be able to suggest treatment options to clients that the latter might not even know you provide.
For example, say a client who knows you practice acupuncture calls to ask if it could help with her dog’s back issues. After asking numerous questions, the informed receptionist or technician who takes the call feels that the client’s first visit should be with the doctor who offers spinal manipulation (“animal chiropractic”) as well as with the doctor who does acupuncture. Because the staff member has had personal experience using these therapies with her own dog, she knows that chiropractic and acupuncture complement each other. This means the client finds out about an additional treatment option your practice provides, and her dog gets even better care. This intelligent scenario wouldn’t have happened if your staff wasn’t trained to fully understand what your practice is offering.
Make them part of the care process
It is imperative that we treat our certified/licensed technicians as the professionals they are, and allow them to utilize their training in the practice. In many cases, this can enhance what the veterinarian is doing. In the above example, for instance, the client’s dog would first see the doctors offering acupuncture or spinal manipulation. Thereafter, a trained certified/licensed technician could do follow-up treatments for the dog, such as massage and rehabilitation.
This team approach allows for better patient care. It not only spreads the burden between the doctor and technician, but it’s also economically beneficial to the practice since you are now getting two visits per patient per treatment. Many times, the cost of seeing the doctor is a deterrent to clients, but seeing the technician may be more affordable. And in the end, the patient benefits from the expertise of both professionals.
In my practice, the doctor trained in spinal manipulation sees the animal for the first time, works up a protocol for the client and treats the pet. The next two visits are with the technician who is certified in massage and rehabilitation. This allows for the animal to be cared for properly, the client is not overwhelmed with a financial burden, and the practice is still getting monetary benefits.
There are additional benefits to this system. The client now has two people responsible for the care of her pet. This gives her added comfort, because she knows if the doctor is unavailable to discuss or answer any questions, another trained professional familiar with the animal’s condition can do so. The doctor is not so overburdened with patients and can share treatment protocols or give direct procedures to someone he/she can trust and who is familiar with the cases.
Get them involved with intake Another way to make optimum use of trained staff is to allow them to do a complete intake before the client visits with the doctor. As you know, a thorough patient history is invaluable to successful treatment. How many times does a client tell the staff things they forget to tell the doctor? In our practice, we call this the “oh, by the way” syndrome. Many times, this piece of information is the main key to the patient’s condition. We had one client bring in a dog with allergies and occasional “seizures”. After a complete physical exam by the doctor and an in-depth discussion of nutrition, vaccine protocols, and a review of diagnostics from another practice, the doctor excused himself and left the exam room to gather other diagnostic materials. During his absence, the client told me how frustrated she was about her dog’s condition and said, “Oh by the way, did I mention that he had a brain tumor removed years ago?” Could this have anything to do with the perceived seizures? This is the type of thing that could have been overlooked if I had not been in the exam room engaging the client in a comfortable chat. Various clients have told my staff during intake about abuse to their pets, past treatments and surgeries, possible drug interactions or recreational drug ingestion, all of which they never mentioned to the doctor during their visits!
Trained staff members are our most important resource. By keeping them in the loop with education, compassion and a thorough understanding of the holistic modalities we offer, we can more readily reach our goal of optimum patient care.
Michelle J. Rivera, MT, VDT, is an instructor at the University of Wisconsin and The Healing Oasis Wellness Center, a post-graduate educational institution offering state-approved programs as set forth by the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board. She is also the co-owner of The Healing Oasis Veterinary Hospital, Inc. a holistic veterinary practice offering massage and rehabilitation therapy, chiropractic and Chinese and Western Herbology. Michelle has completed the Chinese Herbal Medicine program from the China Beijing International Acupuncture Training Center, and has been certified in Chinese Medicine by the Wisconsin Institute of Chinese Herbology.