Columns , Leadership

You make the call

Timely follow-up communication underscores your practice’s commitment to client service and patient care.

You make the call
Call the day after any medication is dispensed. Ask if the client is having issues administering the drug and whether the pet is having side effects.

The concept of client callback systems is not a new one. Veterinary practices have used them for years and have seen positive results. Most practices started with lab results and then added surgery callbacks a day or two after the procedure. Sadly, many hospitals stopped here, thinking that was enough.

The common assumption is that a client who has a concern or needs something will call. If only this was the case. In reality, questions are not answered, concerns are not addressed and, in many cases, the patient is not served.

So many practices are missing an opportunity to take their customer service, patient care and client compliance to the next level. There are countless reasons to flag a client for a callback. Is your team working to identify all these opportunities? Virtually every practice management system (your software) has a callback feature that can be initiated and customized.

Identifying clients who need further communication after a visit and establishing a system to ensure it happens is important. As part of the medical team, veterinary nurses serve a key role in the process as many callbacks are medical in nature. A comprehensive callback system might include:

Lab Results

Any lab test requires a call to the client as soon as results are in.

Non-Routine Medical Appointments

Call the day after the appointment to check on the patient. Ask questions related to the reason for the visit and any home care recommended. For example, is the pet still limping, scratching or vomiting? Is the client able to apply the hot compresses? Does the pet tolerate the e-collar? If a follow-up visit wasn’t scheduled, make the appointment now.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns, change treatment plans or medications, and book appointments.

Post-Surgery, Dentaland Anesthesia

Call the following day. Is the pet eating, drinking and having appropriate eliminations? Inquire about the incision, the administration of medications sent home and any recommended home care.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns regarding the pet’s comfort, medications and post-op care.

Hospitalized Patients

Call each morning. Give a comfort update (how the pet did overnight), a medical update (what will happen today) and a financial update (the status of charges based on the treatment plan given). Call at day’s end with a similar update.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns and keep the owner informed about treatments and fees.

Post-Hospitalization

Call the day after discharge. Ask similar questions as with the post-surgery call.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns before complications can arise.

New Diagnosis Needing Ongoing Treatment

Call the following day. Imagine a client has a newly diagnosed diabetic pet who now needs insulin. Imagine the client’s relief when a veterinary nurse calls to ask how the injections are going. Or what about a dog placed on a new anti-seizure medication? Is the drug working?

Benefits: Problems with medication administration or treatments are identified early.

Bandages, Casts or Splints

Call the following day to make sure the bandage is clean and dry, to assess swelling and to discuss follow-up care. Schedule a bandage change or any needed radiographs.

Dispensed or Prescribed Medications

Call the day after any medication is dispensed. Ask if the client is having issues administering the drug and whether the pet is having side effects.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns, change a medication or help with drug administration techniques.

E-Collars

Call the following day to confirm the pet is tolerating the e-collar and that it is being used as directed.

Benefits: Better recovery rates and fewer post-surgical complications.

New Diets

Call the following day. Ask if the pet is eating the new food and if any side effects have occurred.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns and help with food transition.

Appointment Confirmations

Call a day or two in advance of every scheduled appointment. Confirm details of the visit and provide important pre-procedure instructions.

Benefits: Fewer no-shows and less chance a surgery needs to be rescheduled because a pet was fed.

New Clients

Call the day after the first appointment to welcome the client and patient to the practice. Ask how the pet is doing and whether the client has any questions.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns.

Routine Wellness Appointments

Call the day after the appointment to ask how the pet is doing and whether the client has any questions. If a follow-up vaccine appointment was not scheduled, now is a good time to do it.

Benefits: An opportunity to address and resolve client concerns and schedule future visits.

Maintaining a robust callback system can be overwhelming if the whole team is not involved. Once system parameters are established, share the workload. Decide which callbacks will be made by the nurses, the doctors and the receptionists. Develop a system that works with your team and staffing levels.

The division of responsibility might look like this:

Veterinary Nurse

  • Post diet change
  • Routine negative lab results
  • Post medical appointment
  • Post routine surgery/dentistry
  • Hospitalized patient update
  • Post-hospitalization
  • New medical diagnosis or treatment
  • Post bandage/cast/splint
  • Post medication dispensed
  • Post e-collar

Doctor

  • New medical diagnosis/treatment
  • Comprehensive lab results
  • Positive lab results
  • Post-advanced surgery
  • Hospitalized patient update
  • Post-hospitalization

Receptionist

  • New clients
  • Appointment confirmation
  • Surgery confirmation
  • Routine wellness appointment

Regardless of the type of callback, the conversation must be documented in the medical record, particularly if the course of treatment or home care instructions are modified. Proactive communication allows you to address concerns early and head off patient complications.

Don’t let voicemail deter you. If you can’t reach the client directly, leave a message and ask the client to call back for an update. It’s important to consider a client’s preferred contact method. Some will want a phone call, but others might prefer email or a text message. The key is to make timely contact.

Enhanced communication will improve adherence and compliance rates. Patients will receive the medication and treatments prescribed, and clients will accept the services recommended. Your clients will see the value in your efforts.

Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a practice management consultant, speaker, writer and instructor for Patterson Veterinary University.  

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