Exploring the "Why" of Adapting to a New Veterinary Protocol

"We are going to change a protocol." Is there a more dreaded sentence in veterinary medicine?

Change management is incredibly difficult for veterinary teams, and every practice manager will likely grapple with resistance from all sides: Doctors may not trust new medicines or procedures for their patients, team members may stress about workflow issues, and everyone may worry about what it will cost the clients. These are all valid concerns to address, but refusing to change is not an option.

Answering the "Why"

The first step to managing protocol change begins with explaining the value to your practice stakeholders. Your stakeholders — the DVMs, the veterinary technicians and nurses, the patient care team, and the client service team — want to know the "why" of what is being proposed. When answering that question, be clear about the goals, and make sure the change benefits the patient, the client, and the practice — in that order. If a change does not benefit all three, you may want to reconsider whether it is a change you should really make.

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Taking a Three-Pronged Approach

A new test that detects change in a crucial parameter, like organ function, would be a great addition to a new veterinary protocol, but what is the best way to present the change to your staff and clients to maximize buy-in? How can you justify the benefit to the practice itself?

Let's run through a quick illustration of adding a new veterinary test using a three-pronged approach:

  • Reach the medical staff with hard evidence. Prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat — that is what DVMs do every day. Emphasize how a new test can help them on that path and present the evidence to support its use. The medical team will appreciate seeing the hard science behind the test. The patient care and client service teams will also need to understand the basic science, so they can explain it to clients and support them by answering any questions. All stakeholders in the practice also need to be aware of how it can help the practice provide good care for their patients.
  • Demonstrate value to the client. Ask yourself: Will the protocol change add value for the client and help them give their pet a long and happy life? "Our clients won't pay for that" is a commonly heard detraction from team members. Practice managers certainly have to keep cost in mind, but it's also important to look at this from the client's perspective. Are you asking clients to pay a few more dollars to detect something early? Does it mean they can intervene and make their pet's life better because of it? Most clients will clearly see the value in that, which will help your patient care and client service teams feel motivated to support the changes.
  • Put it in context for the practice financially. At this point, the change is supported by evidence, helps the medical team in a core function (detection), and makes sense for the client. But will it be easy to incorporate into the practice's workflow? Practice managers need to determine how this change affects the practice financially. Is the change something that creates additional strong profits on its own, or is it something you can incorporate at minimal additional cost while increasing top-line revenue per visit? Giving support teams a financial understanding of the how and why of these changes is crucial. Managers will need to do their homework to make sure the changes are meaningful for the stakeholders, as well as the patient and client. Adding a relatively low cost to existing veterinary diagnostics is fairly easy for workflow and finances, but what about a different example that causes more disruption to the workflow?

A Win-Win-Win Implementation

Improving your preventive care protocols often requires more effort on the part of team members throughout the client journey.

For example, one of our teams decided to increase fecal compliance. The entire team agreed it was important to keep pets free of internal parasites for the pets' and clients' sake. They understood the change would benefit the practice financially by increasing revenue per patient visit without increasing fixed costs. Increased revenue and stable profitability lead to better financial outcomes for everyone involved.

The team knew they had to improve their client education to increase compliance. They all got involved in identifying the bottlenecks and figuring out how to change the process — the more people, the merrier. They were pleasantly surprised to have a new client service representative come up with a simple change in telephone "patter" that got results. They tested different scripts (or "patters") to see what got results. They made a realistic and humble goal to measure against (25% increase for the quarter) that they easily surpassed. They succeeded because they understood that all the stakeholders in the practice — the patients, clients, medical team, patient care team, and client service team — benefited.

Change management often becomes unnecessarily complicated when teams spend too much time trying to figure out the ultimate solution. Practices need to build resiliency and the ability to learn from failure into each team. Change is rapidly accelerating in vet med, and it's going to be a bumpy ride over the next decade. Build resiliency within your team by teaching them the fundamentals, like how to be flexible and willing to try different things. Involve them in the process, present the why of the change, support them in trying new things, and look at failure as a lesson rather than a catastrophe.

Nothing builds morale like a shared success. Measure efforts, set real goals, and celebrate the wins as a team.

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Nancy Drumm
General Manager, Capital Vets

Nancy Drumm is the daughter of a veterinarian and the granddaughter of a dairy farmer. She started working at the family practice at the age of 8, helping her father see patients after dinner, and the practice has been part of her entire life. She has been a farmer for many years as well. She has a burning interest in how things work and enjoys the challenges of running a business. She combines that curiosity and a willingness to try new things with a desire to use data to help us all make better decisions for our lives and practices.

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