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Start charging for your phone time

Give fee-based consultations a try and see how your clients respond.

Start charging for your phone timeHave you ever calculated how much time you spend on the phone with clients? Time spent checking on your patients, following up on lab work results and giving status updates on hospitalized patients. But there is a whole other side to callbacks that will make any veterinarian sigh, or maybe cry, at the end of a long day. These are the calls requiring extensive conversations. They are basically the same as telemedicine consultations, except that they are verbal and you aren’t getting paid for them. Some examples of the kind of sticky notes you might see on your desk are:
  • “Ms. Smith has questions about what kind of food she should feed her new puppy, and she wants to talk to you today.”
  • “Ms. Smith wants to talk about if it’s time for her to put her cat to sleep, and she wants to talk to you today.”
  • “Mr. Smith wants you to call him because he has a lot of questions after Ms. Smith’s visit.”
  • “Ms. Smith wants you to call as soon as possible because her dog isn’t eating and she doesn’t want to bring him in unless it’s really necessary. I told her she should come in, but she wants you to call her first.”
These are the type of calls you should be converting to telemedicine, meaning advice you give over the phone and charge for.

Go Slow

For as long as I can remember, consultants have been telling veterinarians to charge for their time like lawyers and accountants do. And we, the veterinarians, totally agree. The issue is, how do you start charging for something you always give away for free? Well, I have a solution. Read on. I never learned to swim as a kid. My mom couldn’t swim and told me that women in our family had the kind of fat that wouldn’t float. Yes, I believed that until I became an adult and realized it wasn’t true. After my divorce, I had a new awareness that life is short and it’s never too late to change. So, at age 34, I decided to face one of my biggest fears and take swimming lessons. But here’s the deal: I didn’t jump in the deep end first. I started on the steps and dipped my toe in the water. Then, I gradually got acclimated to the water because I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out. This is the same approach to convert your free phone consults to a revenue stream.

Three-Step Process

Try this: Step 1: Block off two hours several days a week. I recommend across the lunch period, say from noon to 2 p.m. Create four blocks in your schedule for phone consults. Step 2: Make a game plan with your receptionists about any calls related to a patient you haven’t seen in the past three to five days. If the client requests a consultation, offer this: “The doctor will call you back sometime in the next few days as her schedule permits. However, we do have several slots reserved for same-day phone calls if you would like to set up an appointment. Then, the doctor will call you at that time. The fee is $15.” Step 3: Roll out the callback program for a trial period of 30 days or so. Gauge the response. Worst case, no one chooses to pay for the appointment, but at least you get to eat lunch and catch up on patient charts. Best case, some clients take you up on it and you gradually add more phone advice slots and train clients to start paying for your professional advice. The truth is that most clients don’t have any idea of the burden we shoulder as we try to return all the daily calls. A fair number of clients that would completely understand this and better yet, be fine with it. The best way to find out is to dip your toe in the water and test it. Dr. Stacee Santi is founder of Vet2Pet, a technology company whose mobile app is designed to attract, engage and retain clients.