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
Leveraging the veterinary team is undeniably the best thing you can do to improve your practice’s efficiency, productivity and revenue. Over the past couple of years, veterinary hospitals have struggled to keep up with client and patient needs. We don’t seem to have enough room in our daily schedules or enough staff to accommodate every pet. The solution? Better utilization of your veterinary nurses. Not every client and patient needs to see a veterinarian. A veterinary nurse, perhaps the most underutilized resource in your practice, can help many of them.
Divide and Conquer
If you aren’t scheduling veterinary nurse appointments, you’re missing a prime opportunity to leverage talent and increase the number of daily patient visits. Under the veterinarian’s direction and supervision, veterinary nurses can handle many ancillary services often slotted for the doctor. They can even start and finish many of the doctor visits. Every saved minute counts. Opening 30-minute appointment slots for true medical cases will dramatically impact the number of clients your practice can serve.
Consider a typical wellness exam. The client conversations might cover nutrition, vaccinations and preventative diagnostics such as routine blood panels and heartworm and fecal testing. The veterinary nurse can do that before the doctor enters to perform the annual exam. Once the doctor is finished, the veterinary nurse can administer vaccinations, obtain lab samples, discuss treatment plans as directed by the doctor and prepare any medications going home with the client. The veterinarian’s time in the exam room is cut in half, and the doctor is already onto the next appointment.
We must look for ways to find more openings in the appointment schedule. It’s only possible with the efficient leveraging of your veterinary nurses.
When you consider the type of appointments that can be scheduled with a veterinary nurse, start by evaluating the outpatient cases assigned to the doctors. How many of the visits could your nursing team handle entirely or partially?
Regarding the division of labor, keep this in mind:
- Only the veterinarian can diagnose, prognose, prescribe and perform surgery.
- Credentialed veterinary nurses and the support team are responsible for everything else, including nursing care, treatments, oral health procedures (if allowed in your state), client communication and patient advocacy.
How much time do your veterinarians spend on those tasks? Change how you look at their time by scheduling veterinary nurse appointments.
Here are four easy steps:
- Add separate appointment columns in your scheduler.
- Assign a specific veterinary nurse to each block of appointments.
- Use a particular exam room for the appointments.
- Establish a fair fee for the appointments and charge for the services provided during the visit.
The time you allot to veterinary nurse appointments will vary based on the patient. For example, suture removal and post-op visits might take 15 minutes, whereas showing a client how to administer insulin and monitor blood sugar might require 30 minutes.
Routine discharges also should be performed by the veterinary nurse. The doctor should have communicated with the client throughout the day and answered all questions. Leave it to the veterinary nurse to review discharge instructions, home care and medications.
Building Client Awareness
The more often clients interact with a veterinary nurse, the more trust and respect they will have for your team. When we look at our human nursing counterparts, our respect for registered nurses and the trust we place in RNs is evident. We need to bring the same level of awareness to veterinary medicine. Many clients have no idea what RVT, LVT, CVT or VTS stand for. It’s time to educate them. Spell out the titles on nametags and introduce yourself as a credentialed veterinary nurse.
Furthermore, don’t wait for National Veterinary Technician Week to recognize and acknowledge your practice’s veterinary nurses. Do it year-round and publicly. Feature your veterinary nurses on your practice website, on social media and in the hospital. If your state requires that licenses be posted within clear view of the client, mount your veterinary nurses’ licenses and diplomas alongside the doctors’. Build awareness and trust.
The Financial Benefits
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2008 Biennial Economic Survey showed that, on average, practices generated $161,493 in additional gross revenue for every credentialed technician in the hospital. Adjusted for inflation, the number jumped to $220,000 in 2020. Think of how much it might be today. The primary reason was that the utilization of credentialed technicians freed veterinarians to generate the active income that only they could.
Veterinary nurses who are fully utilized and respected within the hospital have higher levels of job satisfaction, self-worth and well-being. They also are bonded to the practice and profession, so their burnout and turnover rates fall dramatically. Your veterinary nurses are an asset to your practice. Invest in the asset and reap the rewards. Everybody wins.
MAKE THE MOST OF THEM
The recipe for success is simple if you hire the right veterinary nurses and train them well. Here are eight tips:
- Encourage the licensure of your veterinary nurses and support it financially.
- Let them do the job for which you hired them.
- Pay them what they are worth. Fully utilizing them will generate the needed revenue.
- Have clear expectations.
- Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
- Empower your veterinary nurses to make decisions. Support those decisions.
- Train them on advanced procedures.
- Let them know that they are valued team members.