When appointment calendars are booked, phones are ringing off the hook, and staff is short, it can be hard for veterinary practices to invest time and energy into learning about the latest technology offerings or updating programs already in place. But ignoring these options means ignoring opportunities to relieve pressure points in workflow throughout the hospital.
Workflow, a buzzworthy term making a surge in the veterinary industry, is the pattern of activity that takes a task from the to-do list to completion. Technology, in its many formats, can help with nearly every workflow in the practice, from the front desk to the back, and at every stage of the client experience. In the end, practices and teams can work more efficiently, freeing up more time to care for the patients they love.
Before clients & patients arrive: decrease those ringing phones!
Utilizing options for online appointment booking, online appointment requests, and remote check-in, practices can decrease ringing phones dramatically while meeting client demands and facilitating more appointments.
Real-time appointment scheduling online is a solution to frustrations of both pet owners and practice staff. Clients can book an appointment online, at their convenience, even if the office is closed—which doubles the practice’s capacity to make appointments. Receptionists are freed up for more tasks when they spend less time on the phone discussing various scheduling options with clients—a task that takes an average of 8 minutes for each appointment.
One survey found that nearly 70% of millennial pet owners—the largest pet-owning population1—preferred to book online. Another study found that 50% of appointments were made after business hours, and 17% of appointments made with an online booking tool were from new clients. However, just an estimated 25%2 to 45%3 of practices offer this functionality.
Practices can easily take advantage of this opportunity to reduce staff time, improve client appointment numbers, and be more accessible to their clients. Client engagement, satisfaction, and practice revenue improve when clients are able to book appointments promptly, receive online confirmation, and get reminders through your service or their own digital calendars.
Preparing for the appointment
Online client registration forms
Gone are the days of waiting for a client to hastily fill out a paper form while clutching a leashed pup, then trying to decipher illegible handwriting, manually entering the results, scanning registration forms, and filing them. Sending a link to an online client registration form that clients can complete at home before their appointment is a game changer for the new client workflow. Online forms improve the accuracy of information, time for the pet’s first appointment, and legal document storage.
Practices can include helpful information in appointment confirmation and reminder emails, texts, or app notifications. This added information can include instructions for clients to send, attach, or upload medical records ahead of time—allowing them to be included in the patient’s record before the appointment, so the veterinary care team can review rather than spend the appointment time chasing down old lab results. Additionally, practices can include helpful tips, drop-off or consent forms, and, in general, set expectations for clients for improving efficiency and understanding before the appointment even begins.
The check-in process: less typing, more customer service
Online check-in forms
When practices enable an online check-in form, pet owners can check in from the parking lot. In addition to helping maintain a healthy social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend will likely stay for many businesses as a post-pandemic option for pet owners. Checking in from the car eliminates exam room congestion and decreases stress for fearful or reactive patients. Receptionists can better focus on the clients in front of them and triage patients more efficiently into a room when their care team is ready.
Online check-in forms can also include questions about any other needs the pet owner might have after their appointment such as refills or vaccination certificates prepared for their grooming appointment. When the front desk knows this information ahead of time, they can start working on these needs while the patient is in the exam, improving the duration of the visit and the team’s ability to complete all the necessary services.
Online history forms
Some practices may choose to take their check-in forms a step further and link them to an online history form. Pet owners can use their wait time to provide the standard information we’ve been asking for years—why is their pet here today, what foods are they eating, any coughing/sneezing, vomiting or diarrhea, and the other usual suspects. Rather than asking and typing these standard questions, assistants and technicians can be preparing the room, vaccinations, or diagnostic tools, and then focus on more pertinent information—now from a written record the owner provides.
Many of the digital form tools also offer conditional logic, allowing automatic customization of the questions asked. For instance, if a pet owner selects a “nutrition consultation” from a dropdown list of appointment types, the subsequent questions will prompt the owner for information regarding their pet’s current food, amount, frequency, etc. However, if they select “annual exam,” the questions displayed will focus on the pet’s general lifestyle, risk assessment, and parasite preventives. By enabling these forms, practices can improve efficiency and obtain a written record of information from the pet owner: Instead of asking questions and typing answers into the medical record, the online history responses can simply be imported or copied and pasted into the patient’s subjective data, objective data assessment plan or SOAP note.
During the exam and/or hospitalization
No technology can replace the examination by a veterinarian and technician team. But it can help what we do with that information—the assessments, the diagnostic results, and the treatment plans—and how we share it with our clients.
Instead of completing the exam, writing or typing out a medical record, and generating a patient summary report card, veterinarians may take advantage of dictation software and PIMS with built-in client templates. Doctors frustrated by playing phone tag to relay exam findings or diagnostic results may find it more efficient to record a quick screen-share video and send the link via email or text before moving on to their next appointment—delivering the information the pet owner needs and in a way that doesn’t require both the veterinary team and the owners to be present and available at the same time.
Diagnostic tools continue to advance at a rapid rate—at minimum providing us better ways to share results with owners at the click of a button and, at their best, using artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced algorithms to calculate measurements, diagnose cytologies and automatically generate advanced reports faster than we can see the next appointment. When practices upgrade their diagnostic tools to coordinate with integrated practice management systems, veterinary teams can invoice, print requisition forms, and link results to patient records with the click of a button.
A recent study that looked at pet owner preferences for receiving updates about their hospitalized pet found that nearly 40% of pet owners would prefer to receive updates about their pet via text.4 Texting can keep the care team’s workflow of updating pet owners more efficient. Texting is widely adopted by today’s population with some studies showing use as high as 97% of Americans. In addition, more than 60% of Americans respond to a text within 1 to 2 minutes5. Regardless of the tools used, technology enhancements can augment the practice of medicine, improve the efficiency of our patient care, and enhance the value of the services we provide.
The checkout process
Gone are the days of sending the client up front to wait in a line behind a rambunctious pup or terrified cat. Using mobile terminals, practice teams can receive payment in the room and give owners the option for a printed, emailed, or texted receipt, and then allow them to exit the room and straight to their car. This makes the nearly 500 average credit card and debit card swipes handled by veterinary practices each month6 during checkouts much more efficient for the team and the client, and the pet would likely appreciate it, too. Additionally, using a payment processing system that is fully integrated with the practice’s PIMS can save practices up to 25 hours of staff time in reconciliation and dual data entry.6
Many practices already use an automated process for follow-up care, whether PIMS reminder to make a phone call to check in on the patient after their appointment or surgery or an automated one that is sent. Upgrading this process to a multimodal approach with PIMS integration offers practices the ability to further streamline reminders and reach clients via phone, text, email or postcard, or a combination based on the client’s preference. Automation means this workflow can be eliminated, or greatly decreased, for the front desk team.
With any luck, the veterinary-client relationship isn’t limited to a single annual appointment and continues to grow and evolve over time. When practices use technology to continue to meet pet owner needs, loyalty to the veterinary care team will increase.
Upgrading prescription management technology to those that integrate with PIMS allows practices to create, approve and renew scripts for ongoing prescription diets, parasite preventatives, and chronic medications. Practices can send automatic refill reminders and notify them of any potential expiries—preventing problems before they arise for the pet owner, the veterinary team, and the pet.
Allowing clients to access important information like vaccine records to share with boarding, training and grooming facilities can improve customer satisfaction and decrease calls to the front desk. In emergency or referral situations when clients seek outside veterinary care, medical record access can limit frustrations and improve patient care. Portals can also provide areas for owners to request appointments and prescription refills, and send secure messages to their pet’s care team—asynchronous communication that can be a workflow game changer.
Ongoing client communication
Practices using updated technology programs that offer email, texting, or app chat communication options may also find improved workflows in communicating with pet owners about nonurgent questions, sharing helpful practice and pet health information, and continuing to serve as a resource for pet owners. By using these technologies (vs traditional phone call communication), practices can improve efficiency and meet client preferences for communication alike. Staff time is decreased when practices can schedule reminders, newsletters and push notifications, utilize templates, and include links to practice resources.
Worth the investment
Today’s pet owners, particularly those under 36 years of age—now the largest pet-owning segment of the population1— have created a demand for improved technology as part of their pet’s health care. Pet owners are utilizing technology at touch points throughout the veterinary experience—from online research of review sites and social media when selecting a veterinarian, to visiting a practice’s website to check hours and scheduling an appointment, to requesting records via email, app or portal access, and utilizing texts and emails for notification of results and next steps.
When the practice dedicates the resources to adopt, implement, test, and assess new technology, the team’s improved workflows can result in:
- increased efficiency;
- improved medical records;
- fewer missed charges;
- reduced client visit times;
- improved client education, compliance and value perception;
- improved clinical outcomes; and
- happier pets, clients, and teams.
Whether your practice embraces app chat and telemedicine or is just starting out with its first techy tool, the investment in time, energy, and attention will be well worth the wait.
- How can pet clinics please Millennials? Weave. Accessed June 6, 2020. https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/973536/Weave_infographic_millen- nial_pet_owners.pdf
- Can online booking boost your veterinary practice revenue? Covetrus. November 1, 2018. Accessed August 3, 2020. https:// softwareservices.covetrus.com/global/client-solutions/ how-online-booking-can-boost-practice-revenue/
- Pet health overview. Merck Veterinary Manual. 2021. Accessed August 3, 2020. www.merckvetmanual.com/resourcespages/pet-health-overview
- Kogan L, Schoenfeld R, Santi S. Medical updates and appointment confir- mations: pet owners’ perceptions of current practices and preferences. Front Vet Sci. 2019;6:80. doi:10.3389/fvets.2019.00080
- 2021 Texting and SMS Marketing Statistics. SimpleTexting. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://simpletexting.com/2021-texting-statistics/
- Payment processing. Covetrus. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://soft- ware.covetrus.com/veterinary-solutions/veterinary-payment-processing/