Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
The goal of every veterinary nurse is to provide excellent care, which includes ensuring that all patients receive the services, immunizations and diagnostics needed to avoid preventable diseases and future health concerns. When the veterinary nurse is in a leadership position, team training and education become added responsibilities. Like so many other things done in clinics every day, it all comes down to good communication. Let’s all get on the same page in the following areas.
Wellness Plans and Protocols
The development of wellness plans and hospital protocols should involve everyone on the team, not just veterinarians. If you want to make sure your plans are comprehensive and cover all medically necessary services and products, begin with a focus on the best medicine.
If you ask team members what your practice’s plans and protocols should include, they likely will rattle off services and items related to patient comfort and the best care. So, who better than surgery technicians to seek input from when addressing post-op pain control protocols? To get buy-in from your team, you must involve everyone in the process. Start here and build your plans based on the entire team’s contributions.
Your team members need to know more than the “what” when they communicate with clients. They also need to know the “why?” A complete understanding of preventive plans and protocols is essential because they are topics of conversation during client interactions in the exam room and on the phone. Once the plans are implemented, the team must accurately communicate their value and benefits.
Exam Room Conversations
Veterinary teams spend a lot of time with clients in the exam room. So, how can we make the most of the time? An exam room plan is an excellent place to start.
We can’t assume that all clients understand what we do during an exam and why. It’s long been said that verbalizing the exam and findings while performing one can draw the client into a conversation and enhance the value of the exam. This can be done during nurse appointments, too. A visit done in an exam room with the client present rather than in a treatment room will have a greater impact on the pet owner.
Customize the client conversation by:
- Talking about which vaccines are given and why boosters are needed.
- Explaining the importance of the annual heartworm test and how heartworm is transmitted.
- Explaining why anal glands need expressing.
- Showing the incision after sutures are removed.
When assisting the veterinarian in the exam room, provide the equipment, tools and assistance to ensure a complete physical exam every time. If the patient is in for itchy skin and the veterinary nurse misses the foxtail in an ear or doesn’t discuss the Stage 3 dental disease, we have not done our best for that patient or client. There’s no better time to “flip the lip” and educate a client than in the exam room.
Establishing comprehensive examination templates within the practice software or checklists will keep visits on track and help acquire all the information needed for a complete exam.
Veterinary nurses are highly educated health care providers, especially if they achieve certification as a veterinary technician specialist. Sharing that knowledge with team members will enable them to disclose it to clients.
The knowledge is about more than which services to offer. Everyone needs to understand why your practice makes specific recommendations and what it all means when clients accept them. For example, every member of the health care team should know what takes place during a complete oral health assessment and teeth cleaning. There’s a lot more to it than when we visit a dentist.
Even though your veterinary assistants and customer service representatives will never perform dental procedures, there’s a huge value in having them observe the steps from start to finish. That way, they better understand what the procedure entails and, with the veterinary nurse’s guidance, learn why. This is also true for routine spay and neuter procedures.
Discussing treatment plans with clients is something many of us do daily. Although the discussion should be left to those who do it best, everyone on the team should be able to answer questions regarding a veterinarian’s recommendations. A well-trained team can help clients make educated decisions about what’s in their pets’ best interests.
Remember that knowledge is power. The more your team members know and understand, the better they can communicate with clients.
Learning and Growing
Continuing education should be encouraged for everyone on the veterinary team regardless of their position. Only so much training can be done at the hospital level, but we are fortunate to have other options. From national veterinary conferences to local and web-based offerings, a wide variety of educational opportunities exists for veterinary professionals. Look for those that match your learning style.
Also, don’t hesitate to take advantage of in-hospital lunch-and-learn sessions presented by vendor partners. The events are a great way to learn about new pet foods, products and services available to your practice, clients and patients.
Continuing education and enhanced training are a sure way to elevate your team to the next level.
A survey commissioned by the North American Veterinary Community found that many pet owners don’t know the actual roles, responsibilities, education and skills of credentialed veterinary nurses and technicians. For example, 73% of the respondents thought that veterinary nurses/technicians only cleaned cages, removed animal waste, or fed and groomed pets. Other results are at bit.ly/NAVCsurvey.