Have you ever counted the number of times the phone rings in your practice each day? Perhaps you should. We often forget that the phone is one of the most important and valuable pieces of equipment in the veterinary practice.
In a busy practice, the phone rings hundreds of times during open hours. Each one of these calls is important and the sound of a ringing phone should be music to our ears (but is often viewed differently by team members).
This is our opportunity to help an existing client or gain a new one, therefore, it is important to make each call count. Many of these incoming calls however, could be eliminated by establishing a comprehensive and proactive callback system. Simply put - call the client before they have the need to call you. Clients have more choices than ever before, and most will choose a practice based on the level of service they receive and value they perceive. A key component of both is appropriate and timely communication. This level of proactive communication is added value that you can’t put a price on.
Are you taking advantage of every opportunity to communicate and connect with your clients?
The concept of callback systems is not new. We started years ago with lab results and then added surgery callbacks a day or two after the procedure. Sadly, many hospitals stop here - thinking that’s enough. These practices are missing an opportunity to take their customer service and patient care to the next level. There are countless reasons for a patient to be flagged for a callback. Your practice management software (PMS) very likely has a callback feature that you can initiate and customize. Most PMS’s can be set up to trigger the callback reminder automatically, based on service codes. Others may require manual entry.
A comprehensive callback system might look something like this:
Call a day or two in advance of every scheduled appointment. Confirm details of the appointment and provide important pre-procedure information and instructions. Benefit: fewer no-show’s and need to reschedule surgery for pets who have eaten.
Call the day following the first appointment to welcome the client and patient to the practice. Ask how the pet is and if they have any questions about their visit. Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have.
Routine Wellness Appointments
Call the day following the appointment to ask how the pet is and see if the client has any questions about the visit. If follow up vaccine appointment has not been scheduled, this is a good time to make that appointment. Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have and schedule future visits.
Call the day following the appointment to check on the patient. Ask specific questions related to the reason for the visit and any home care recommended. Is the pet still limping, scratching, vomiting etc.? Are you able to do the hot compresses, are they tolerating the e-collar etc.? If follow up appointment has not been scheduled now is the time to make that appointment. Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have, change treatments or medications as needed and book future appointments.
Dispensed or Prescribed Medication
Call the day following the dispensing of any medication. Ask the client if they are having any issues administering the medication as directed or if the pet is having any side effects. Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have, change medication if needed or work with client on effective medication administration techniques.
Call the following day. Ask if the pet is eating the new food and if there are any side effects. Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have and help them with food transition techniques.
Any lab test requires a call to the client as soon as the results are received.
Post Surgery, Dental or Anesthesia
Call the following day. Ask if the pet is eating and drinking. How does the incision look? Are you able to give the medications sent home? How does the bandage, cast or splint look? Are you having any trouble with the recommended home care, etc.? Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have with regard to the pet’s comfort, medication administration and post-op care.
• Call in the morning each day the pet is hospitalized. Give a comfort update - how the pet did overnight. Give a medical update - what will happen today. Give a financial update – where they are based on the treatment plan given.
• Call at the end of the day with a similar update.
Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have and keep them informed regarding treatment of their pet.
• Call the following day. Ask similar questions as for a post-surgery call.
Benefit: opportunity to address and resolve any concerns client may have before complications arise.
New Diagnosis Needing Ongoing Treatment
Call the following day. Imagine the client with a newly diagnosed diabetic pet who now needs insulin. Now imagine their relief when they get a call from you asking how the injections are going. How about a seizing dog on a new anti-seizure medication? Is the medication working to control the seizures? Benefit: Problems with medication or treatments identified early.
Maintaining a robust callback system can be overwhelming unless you involve the whole team. Once you establish your system parameters, divide and conquer to share the workload. Decide which callbacks will be made by the receptionists, the technicians, and the doctors. Develop a system that works with your team and staffing levels.
Regardless of the type of callback made, it is important to document the conversation in the medical record, particularly if the course of treatment or homecare instructions are modified. Proactive communication with clients gives you the opportunity to address client concerns early and head off complications with the patient. If issues with medication administration, treatment instructions or post-op complications can be identified on day one, the practice will be able to help the client and the patient - before poor customer perception arises. Don’t let voicemail or answering machines deter the effort. If team members are not able to reach the client directly – leave a message. Ask the client to call back with an update. The practice still gets credit for the effort!
It is important to consider the clients preferred contact method.
Some will elect phone calls but others may prefer email or a text message. With this enhanced effort in communication, the practice will see an improvement in adherence and compliance rates. Patients will receive the medication and treatments as prescribed and directed and clients will accept the services recommended. Your clients will see the value in your efforts. It’s good for the client, good for the patient and therefore, good for the practice.
A special thanks to Sandy Walsh, RVT, CVPM and our friends at Patterson Veterinary University for providing this educational content.