Creative Disruption columnist Dr. Bob Lester is the chief medical officer at WellHaven Pet Health, a former practice owner and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves on the boards of Pet Peace of Mind, WellHaven Pet Health and the Lincoln Memorial veterinary college. He is president-elect of the North American Veterinary Community.Read Articles Written by Bob Lester
Home on time (H.O.T.) is challenging for veterinary professionals, especially since COVID. We’re sooo busy. The phones are ringing, the lobby and parking lot are full, and we’re booked out weeks in advance. H.O.T. has become the rallying cry in many busy practices. How can we help one more pet a day and get home on time?
The good news is more and more data support the value of four-legged animals living with two-legged animals. This morning, I read another study from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute touting the value of pets in families. Get this: Nearly 1 in 3 older U.S. adults lives alone, placing themselves at risk of social isolation and loneliness, which have the same effect on mortality as smoking. Fortunately, pets help combat feelings of loneliness by providing powerful social and emotional support. Pet owners ages 50 to 80 say pets help them enjoy life, make them feel loved and connect them with other people. How cool is that?
The not-so-good news is that as busy veterinary professionals, we’re overwhelmed and likely will continue to be. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that organizations of every size and in every state face unprecedented challenges finding employees. Meanwhile, Animal Health Economics forecasts a shortage of 15,000 companion animal veterinarians by 2030. Meeting the 10-year need for credentialed veterinary technicians will take more than 30 years worth of graduates. At our current pace, up to 75 million U.S. pets will not have access by 2030 to the care they need.
So, how can we deal with the growing demand for veterinary care? And how can we help one more pet a day and get home on time?
What More Can We Do?
We can’t work any harder, but what can we do to become more efficient, work smarter and get home on time? Here are nine options:
- Use more technology: Think dictation software, electronic medical records, online pharmacies, phone bots, client communication apps, telehealth modalities and radiographic interpretation using artificial intelligence. Technology improves practice efficiency and patient outcomes and provides us an opportunity to connect with clients in a more timely manner, cementing the close pet-family-veterinary connection for which our profession is known.
- Embrace team health care delivery: Doctors, please delegate to elevate. DVMs/VMDs can diagnose, prescribe, perform surgery and build relationships. The rest can be delegated. Your team will thank you.
- Establish boundaries: Say no when appropriate. Take a lunch break.
- Support the team’s well-being: Life comes before work. Create a workplace where it’s OK to ask for help. Be prepared to direct your team to resources like employee assistance programs and American Veterinary Medical Association well-being tools.
- Schedule better: Leave open a few slots for drop-offs and urgent care appointments. And create lots of veterinary nurse appointments.
- Re-examine your workflows: Are duties and roles well defined? Who does what and when? Who likes doing what? What more can others do? Those are good topics for your next team meeting. And while you’re meeting, ask everyone how they can practice smarter. We’re better together.
- Go the extra mile: Invest in team training, wellness initiatives and fun activities.
- Stay focused on retention: Take care of the people you have. The cost of replacing doctors is estimated at two-thirds to three-fourths of their annual salary. Replacing veterinary nurses costs more than their yearly salary. Think about that.
- Get away: Take your paid time off. Just as important, make sure your team members take their vacation time.
What Less Can We Do?
Don’t overlook the power of subtraction. Pablo Picasso said, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Indeed, the practice of veterinary medicine is an art, so what can we stop doing? Every to-do list should have an equivalent don’t-do list. For example, my wife and I struggled to teach our oldest daughter to ride a bike. Training wheels and pedals provided little help, but weeks of struggle and more than a few tears helped her learn. When our second child was ready for a bike, we knew to eliminate the training wheels. She learned to ride within days because we eliminated the unnecessary.
What might we subtract from our daily veterinary routine? What can we stop doing to help us get home on time? Consider:
- Substituting travel and face-to-face live meetings with Zoom sessions when possible.
- Replacing exam room consults with drop-offs and curbside service when they make sense. Many clients now prefer this approach.
- Swapping phone calls for bots, texts and emails when you can.
- Moving from five eight-hour workdays to four 10-hour days. You’ll eliminate a day of work and help just as many pets.
- Focusing on preventive care and shifting from sick care to well care. Opting for prevention can eliminate much of the urgent and sometimes unhappy reactive care. Taking a little time now to educate clients about prevention will save time later.
- Eliminating evening or Saturday hours if you’re temporarily understaffed. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Embracing relief DVMs.
What Else Can We Do?
Certainty in the status quo is the opposite of wisdom. So, try new things. Be open to midlevel providers, telehealth, a virtual veterinarian-client-patient relationship, veterinary nurse/technician license protection, additional veterinary school class cohorts, new models of care delivery, encouraging young people to consider careers in veterinary medicine, and promoting diversity, equity and belonging. Change is hard but necessary.
I once heard a practice manager say, “It’s not supposed to be fun; that’s why they call it work.” Wrong! Finding work you love is a triumph. Laughing and joking on the job are not goofing off. The more work is fun, the more productive we become. When work is fun, we relax, share great ideas and collaborate.
We chose to join a profession that is challenging at times but so rewarding. Find reasons to celebrate every day, compliment one another and smile. Say, “Thank you.” It goes a long way. How can you best retain and attract great team talent? By making work fun.
More families than ever are enjoying the many benefits of having pets. Our profession is blessed with an abundance of demand for our services. What we provide society is incredibly valuable.
Again, how can we keep up with the demand and still get home on time? By challenging how we’ve done things in the past, focusing on efficient technology and empowering our teams.
Don’t add to your to-do list without amending your don’t-do list. Let go of certainty, smile whenever you can and have fun. Enjoy the journey. Who knows, you might even get home on time tonight.
DID YOU KNOW?
Research shows that older pet owners are 36% less likely to report loneliness than non-owners.