A client has already called three times today, following up on the message she left for a doctor this morning.
Busy with back-to-back exams and two emergencies, the veterinarian has not returned the call. Worse yet, the client service representative (CSR) spent 20 minutes taking three extra messages and making excuses for the doctor.
Job stress has jumped to 80 percent as doctors deal with excessive caseloads and staff shortages.1 Veterinarians work through lunch, stay after hours, and go home exhausted. The cycle will start over again tomorrow. One in six veterinarians has considered suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).2
The reality: Veterinarians need administrative time blocked in their schedules to review lab results, update medical records, approve prescriptions, and call/text/email clients and vendors. Without dedicated time for administrative tasks, veterinarians risk job burnout and mental health.
The solution: Pre-block doctor-client communication slots in daily schedules just as you do for appointments.
Choose from two options:
1) Three 20-minute doctor-client communication blocks at mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and the second to last appointment of the day, such as 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:00 p.m., or 2) Six 10-minute doctor-client communication blocks every 90 minutes, such as 9:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Both options allocate 60 minutes per day for doctors to complete administrative tasks.
Here are tips to help doctors maximize the payoff of doctor-client communication blocks:
Have CSRs screen calls
Explain, “The doctor is currently seeing patients in appointments/performing surgery. What is your specific question for the doctor? A technician may be able to help you now.”
The caller says she cannot get her cat to swallow a pill. Given a technician can give medication administration instructions, the CSR will connect the caller to a technician rather than take a message for the veterinarian.
Set callback expectations
Suppose the client leaves a message at 9 a.m. in reply to the doctor’s voicemail about her pet’s lab results. The CSR will explain, “Dr. <Name> is seeing patient appointments now and needs to speak with you. The doctor will be available at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to return calls. What is the best number to reach you during those times, and can the doctor also text you at that number?” You’ll avoid a barrage of repeat messages from the same client.
If the caller does not answer when the veterinarian returns her call, he can leave a detailed voicemail about the lab results. Send a text as backup communication. Text this: Dr. <Name> left you a voicemail about <pet name>’s lab results. The doctor can speak with you at 2:30 p.m. Please reply C to confirm you are available or RS to reschedule another call time.
Ask technicians to help with responses
The doctor will review texts, emails, and voicemails and choose whether he or a technician should respond. This can improve response times. A veterinarian will call a client to discuss abnormal lab results and his diagnosis of kidney disease, while a technician will return a call about a positive intestinal parasite screen and treatment.
The technician will say, “I am <technician name>. Dr. <Name> asked me to call you about your dog’s intestinal parasite screen. Your dog is positive for hookworms. Dr. <Name> has prescribed oral medication for two to three weeks of treatment, which you can pick up today before 6 p.m. We will review medication instructions with you when you arrive. Because the dog’s environment can be infested with hookworm eggs and larvae, you need to remove any stool from your yard promptly.3 Use gloves to put feces in plastic bags and discard in your trash. You will want to remove feces from your yard daily and have your pet on monthly preventatives. What questions can I answer about Dr. <Name>’s diagnosis?” Repeating the doctor’s name will instill trust. Invite questions with the phrase of “What questions can I answer…?” rather than the close-ended question of, “Do you have any questions?”
Rather than have every email dump into the general hospital inbox, set up emails that get to the right person the first time. Create email accounts such as email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Technicians and assistants will manage refill requests at email@example.com, while CSRs will handle incoming and outgoing medical record requests at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use folders to move the process forward
When a refill request lands in the email@example.com inbox, the technician will confirm the pet has had an exam within 12 months and is up to date on any drug-monitoring tests. The technician moves the request to a “Ready for doctor approval” folder, which the veterinarian can access.
Once the doctor okays the refill, she updates the medical record and moves the message to the “Approved to refill” folder. The technician fills the medication, enters the charge, texts pickup instructions to the client, and moves the request to the “Completed refills” folder.
Create templates for common responses
Based on options from your email provider, you can set up and select templates when composing replies. Just personalize a few fields rather than retyping the same paragraph 20 times today.
Here’s an email template for a prescription request: Thank you for requesting a refill of <drug name> for <pet name>. Our medical staff is reviewing the prescription request and will email you when it is ready for pick up or if they have questions. Prescription requests submitted by 2 p.m. will be filled the same day and available for pickup after 4 p.m. If your request is submitted after 2 p.m., we will email you when it is ready on the following business day. You will get an email with a link to pay, and instructions to park in our curbside pickup parking spot, and text us when you arrive. Thank you for using our hospital’s pharmacy and supporting small businesses in your community!
Once a technician fills the medication, text the client a link to pay and pickup instructions. Here is a text template for refill pickups: We have filled <brand name> for <pet name>’s heartworm prevention. You received an instant rebate of $XX for purchasing 12 doses. Use this link to pay and get an immediate receipt. Park in our curbside pickup spot and text us when you arrive.
When you add doctor-client communication blocks, veterinarians will batch administrative tasks, provide timely responses, and create loyal clients. Being busy is not an excuse for poor client service. High appointment demands and staff shortages require doctors to work smarter, not harder, longer hours.
Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has been training veterinary teams for 22 years as owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians. She teaches teams to become confident communicators, so more pet owners say yes to medical care. Wendy shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly live CE credit webinars. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. Her passion is to help practices like yours thrive and grow through effective communication skills. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.csvets.com.
- Halow B. Alarming Results from National Survey on Veterinary Stress. Available at: https://www.bashhalow.com/alarming-results-from-national-survey-on-veterinary-stress. Accessed May 23, 2022.
- Dembosky A. It’s Not Just Doctors and Nurses. Veterinarians Are Burning Out, Too. National Public Radio. Available at https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/04/08/1086091339/its-not-just-doctors-and-nurses-veterinarians-are-burning-out-too. Accessed May 23, 2022.
- Ward E. Hookworm Infection in Dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals. Available at: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/hookworm-infection-in-dogs. Accessed May 23, 2022.