Improving Veterinary Preventive Care With Drop-Off Appointments
Many veterinary practices offered drop-off appointments long before COVID-19's restrictions began to transform the way veterinary care is provided. Drop-offs allow busy pet owners to fit their pet's veterinary care around their schedules, increasing and enhancing the amount of preventive care patients receive.
However, reaping the reward requires devising and operating a drop-off system that's both appropriate and smart—otherwise, the process can become so negative that it decreases the quality of care and morale of team members.
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Here's how drop-off appointments can help—not hinder—the success of your practice in delivering preventive care.
Benefits of Drop-Off Veterinary Appointments
Drop-off appointments may contribute to higher client satisfaction, improved compliance, and long-term loyalty. Most clients prefer to have their sick pet see their trusted veterinarian rather than wait six to eight hours at an emergency clinic to see an unfamiliar practitioner. Drop-off appointments can allow your team to see more patients each day, which can improve your bottom line.
When your practice is overwhelmed with same-day sick patients, prioritizing routine, scheduled visits often seems less important than tending to critical issues. However, preventive care visits are essential for pet health, offering an annual opportunity to encourage clients to bond with your practice and providing education that improves overall care. Drop-offs can help to alleviate the overload so that team members can give scheduled clients the attention they deserve.
Best Practices for Drop-Off Appointments
Learning what drop-off policies work best for your team and practice will likely take some trial and error, so keep tabs, collect feedback, and adjust accordingly. Here are five drop-off best practices to start with.
1. Set Limits
Controlling how many drop-off appointments you accept and who is allowed to arrange them is critical to reaping the rewards. Without limits, clients may use drop-offs to circumvent your current schedule; don't let that happen. Instead, use drop-off appointments to fill available spaces in the schedule or block a certain amount of time each week. As such, it's important to train the reception team to both communicate clearly with clients and recognize cases that can wait and those that can't. If team members are unsure whether a patient needs same-day care, authorize a colleague or manager to make the decision. It can also help to schedule wellness visits two to three weeks in advance to leave room for urgent drop-offs.
2. Standardize Intakes
To avoid wasting time playing phone tag with a client, create detailed, standardized veterinary drop-off forms to ensure team members get client authorizations and other essential information when they check in drop-off patients. Although your team may ask clients to remain available by phone, people get busy and may fail to answer your first call. Delayed authorizations complicate your day, and can even cause team members to work through lunch while they wait for clients to return phone calls. Consider standardized estimates for specific problems (e.g., vomiting workup, ear treatment, skin workup) that team members can quickly pull up for clients to review and sign before leaving their pet at your practice.
3. Assign One Team Member to Each Case
Separate drop-offs among floor technicians, or assign a single technician to focus solely on drop-offs for the day. To avoid confusion or a forgotten patient, make the technician in charge of each case responsible for checking patients in, completing treatments, assigning a pickup time, and discharging.
4. Implement a Tracking System for All Team Members
All team members on the floor should know who is in the facility, why they are there, and what services have yet to be fulfilled. Although the technician in charge is primarily responsible for a pet's visit, other team members should also be familiar with a patient's status and be ready to support if necessary. Whiteboards, treatment spreadsheets, and tracking software can ensure all team members can view a patient's status, including if the service is complete. In addition, use timers for time-sensitive tasks. Your team might even affix magnetic-backed timers to whiteboards or color-code timers to match patients.
5. Schedule an Open Doctor for Each Day
If you have enough veterinarians and team members, assign a doctor with a completely open schedule. That way, reception can fill the time slots in the morning with same-day drop-offs. Nowadays, most practices can easily fill these spots, but if you find the open doctor has downtime, assign them to help the other receiving doctors with overflow cases, authorizations of prescriptions, chartwork, or care of hospitalized patients.
Drop-Off Appointment Pitfalls
While drop-off appointments can be a powerful tool for practices to succeed, they can also come with potential pitfalls if designed and applied poorly, including:
- Too many appointments and not enough team members, leading to burnout
- Incomplete histories or estimate authorizations
- Playing phone tag, which delays treatments
- Confusion in tracking and status
- Confusion among clients about drop-off procedures and system
To anticipate these issues and head them off, make whatever system you devise a collaborative one, drawing on the experience and recommendations from the team members who will need to implement and operate it on a day-to-day basis. This helps ensure buy-in from the team as a whole.
The pandemic may have forced the implementation of drop-off appointments or taken them to new levels, so most practices have already gained a lot of experience with them. Apply these lessons learned in whatever system you devise and build upon them to maintain drop-offs as a powerful tool to keep your practice operating at its best—and patients at their healthiest.