A client 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 per cent 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. Their mental health is at risk.
The solution: Pre-block veterinarian-client communication slots in daily schedules just as you do appointments. Choose from two options which allocate 60 minutes per day for doctors to complete administrative tasks:
1) Three 20-minute doctor-client communication blocks at mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and the second to last appointment of the day (i.e. 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4 p.m.); or
2) Six 10-minute doctor-client communication blocks every 90 minutes (i.e. 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.).
What follows are tips to help doctors maximize the payoff of doctor-client communication blocks.
When a client calls, the CSR can 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 call-back expectations
Suppose a client leaves a message at 9 a.m. in response to a 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?” This helps avoid a barrage of repeat messages from the same client.
If the caller does not answer when the call is returned, the veterinarian can leave a detailed voicemail about the lab results. Send a text as backup communication: 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 techs for help
To better streamline, the veterinarian can review texts, emails, and voicemails and choose whether a doctor or a technician should respond. This can improve response times.
The technician will say, “I am <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.
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 OKs 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.
Based on options from your email provider, you can set up and select templates when composing replies. This can help you to personalize a few fields rather than re-typing the same paragraph 20 times today.
An email template for a prescription request might read:
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!
When you add doctor-client communication blocks, veterinarians can 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 shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly live CE credit webinars. Myers is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.csvets.com.
1 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.
2 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.
3 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.