Make the most of what’s at your fingertips - Veterinary Practice
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Make the most of what’s at your fingertips

JAMES BARNES suggests a New Year’s resolution for practice managers

THERE is healthy debate over
whether the bumpiest of economic
roadways is moving to the rear-view
mirror. But one point we can all
agree on – 2009 was a challenging
ride for the veterinary industry.

This recession has
swept through most
of our world,
affecting the
economies of
Europe, Russia and all
of North America.
(China and India were
two areas reporting
growth over the past
year.) And since
history has shown
that recessions caused
by the collapse of
financial markets can
be deep and
prolonged, the road to recovery may
be lengthier than we would like.

Belt-tightening across many
industries has been the norm, and that
certainly includes the amount of
money practice owners are willing to
invest in business infrastructure,
including technology.

But here’s the good news. Practice
management technology is invariably
underutilised. Glance at your mobile
phone or Blackberry. Chances are you
use only a fraction of the applications
now available on that sophisticated
little device that fits in the palm of
your hand.

The same is likely true of your
current practice management system.

So, start the New Year with a fresh
resolve: make the most of what you
have to improve practice workflow,
productivity, efficiency and, that
happiest of factors, profit.

How does your practice flow?

From the time a client walks through
the door of your practice to the
moment he or she departs, a
perception of your capability is being
built. It’s all part of workflow. And
one bad experience can leave a lasting
impression. Appointment bottlenecks
that keep clients waiting, exam room
consults that seem rushed, inattentive
or ill-informed staff – all are examples
of negative workflow events.

Fortunately, common sense and
practice management technology can
help smooth out workflow, prevent
delays and build a positive impression
that translates to happy clients, repeat
visits and referrals.

Automating the
daily workflow
Practice management
systems are the
proven method for
capturing needed
information and
recording treatment
and progress notes
can be time-
consuming – a task that many
veterinarians save for the end of the day when memory for detail is not as
fresh. And, since many treatments are
repetitive, staff are also spending
time to record the same information
again and again for different patients.

Fortunately, advanced systems
have greatly reduced the time needed
to capture information. For example,
by working closely with veterinarians
and industry experts, vendors have
developed procedure templates that
can be used to “preload” critical
baseline data to your system. (Ask
your vendor if your system provides
this capability.)

To eliminate redundancy and
ensure accuracy, some systems now
come with thousands of pre-defined
procedure templates covering the
majority of most common

These can include:

  • medical notes normally used for
    the treatment – changes can be made
    based on patient history and patient-
    specific treatment, but changes are
    typically less than 20% of the total
  • inventory items used – which will
    then automatically reduce the on-
    hand count, any needed client
    communications, such as after-care
    sheets, and any reminders or recalls
    that are normally associated with the
  • all costs and fees for various
    treatment components, including
    professional time, medications,
    consumables, equipment used, etc.

Any of this standard data is then
automatically captured in patient and
billing records whenever that
particular procedure is completed.
The benefits? Reduced data entry
time, consistent medical records,
lowered incidence of missed charges
and improved client communications.

Secrets to smooth workflow

What you see on your workstation
screen should reflect the way a client
moves through your clinic.

With today’s practice management
systems, information needed at each
point along the way is available on one
easy-to-access electronic whiteboard or

Staff should be able to view all
important aspects of patient data on
one screen – including client
information, medical history, test
results, digital radiographs, surgery log
and veterinarian notes, and invoices.
More in-depth data should then be just
a keyboard click away.

There are a variety of clipboards
you should be able to create and
customise to your own practice
workflow. First, develop a format
appropriate to your practice that allows
staff to schedule appointments,
surgeries and visits. Then, build
clipboards to hold important
information and to cover a variety of

One sensible approach is to create
clipboards that show how a client
moves through your clinic; for
example, one clipboard each for
“waiting room”, “in consult”, “waiting
to pay”, and “follow-up”. You might
also create clipboards for specific tasks
such as equipment loans, puppy
classes, waiting rooms lists, lost and
found – you name it!

With a little thought on designing
your clipboards, you should be able to
see at a glance what’s going on in your
practice at any given time, from any
workstation – including all
appointments, the clients and patients
in each area of the practice and the
messages left for you by reception – all
without leaving the workstation.

You should also be able to analyse
the activities to help you determine
where your daily process flow is
working well, and where
improvements are needed.

Workflow at its best: a practical
To demonstrate how effective
automation leads to smooth workflow,
let’s shadow the activities of a typical
client/patient visit.

First, the waiting
room. As you check-
in a patient at the
front desk, his or
her record is
automatically moved
to the waiting room
clipboard. Everyone
can then see at a
glance how long
everybody has been
waiting. You can give a quick explanation for the delay to
anyone who has been kept waiting (or
may have to wait longer). This simple
courtesy goes a long way toward
avoiding the “disgruntled client”

When the client and patient are
moved to a consulting room, you’ll
once again be able to see how long
they’ve been waiting and who they’re
waiting for. A single click on the “in
consult” clipboard should then take
you directly to the patient record. The
patient’s history is immediately

If there are tests to be run or other
work to be done, tasks can be
transferred to the appropriate
clipboard to be dealt with in an orderly
manner without having people dashing
about the clinic.

When the examination or
treatment is complete, the patient’s
record is transferred to the “waiting to
pay” clipboard. Your front desk
personnel can then check-out the
client without chasing around trying to
confirm that there are no outstanding
charges for the patient. Instead, they
can confidently print the bill and
collect payment.

By using your current system in the
right way, there should be many ways
to hone the workflow of people,
patients and information in a practice.
The benefits are significant.

Workflow based on effective
automation can mean a more efficient,
stable work environment, better
patient care and client service, a vastly
improved ability to market practice
services based on accurate client and
patient information. All of these
factors lead to increased practice

Looking ahead: information as
practice gold
Just as people and patients move
through your practice, so does a wide
variety of information from many

In the next article, we’ll focus on
the wealth of information that flows
into and out of your practice each day,
and how that data, managed correctly,
can be your greatest business asset.

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