Raising the Bar at Your Veterinary Hospital

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts written by Louise S. Dunn, who’s partnered with VetMatrix to provide educational content for veterinarians in different areas of their practice. Louise has 45+ years of experience in the veterinary field. She’s the owner of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, author of multiple books including “The 5 Minute Consult,” “Pathways to Ownership,” and “Veterinary Clinics of North America,” she is also a Fear Free certified professional.

Where Are Your Bars?

Raising the bar is a phrase (an idiom) that we often hear when performance must surpass current levels – be that an athlete’s performance in a sporting event, a child’s behavior at home or school, or an employee’s job performance. Raising the bar is a battle cry to do better, to improve, and to achieve a higher goal. In a veterinary hospital, there are three bars to focus on – patient care, client service, and team performance.

Before one can even think of attempting to “raise the bar,” one must know where the bar is set at. If the hospital manager tells the team, “We are raising the bar on patient care,” what exactly are they saying? The team needs to know three things:

  1. Where is the bar sitting at this particular moment?
  2. Why does it need to be raised?
  3. What will they need to do to raise the bar?

Metrics, or key practice indicators (KPIs), can indicate where the bars are sitting. And, when compared to prior business metrics and industry benchmarks, managers can determine the trend and the potential. But there are other measures, such as surveys, testimonials, and performance reviews, that can also shed light on a bar’s current position. To get a good picture of the bar’s location, different metrics and information should be assessed.

Veterinarian taking notes during an appointment

Tools to Use at Your Veterinary Hospital

Choosing the tools is a critical first step for raising the bar. Knowing where the bar has been, and its trend (up or down) will provide the “why” the bar needs raising. The following is a list of some metrics; however, each practice must establish its own set of valuable metrics.

When assessing the bar’s status for patient care, look to the quality of care indicators such as completed puppy and kitten vaccine series, the ratio of progress exams to medical exams, number of cases per month for GI, urological, cardiac, etc., and lab tests performed. 

These metrics tell the team what they are doing to diagnose and treat patients. For example, if the kitten vaccine series shows a low completion rate, the team has their current stat and knows the importance of vaccination – thus, an easy answer to why that bar needs raising.

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Client service involves client satisfaction surveys (such as the Net Promoter Score or NPS), trends in client complaints, testimonials posted on social media, client bonding rate, phone shopper conversion, new clients per month, and new patients per month. 

Veterinarian going over paperwork with pet owner

The team should also pay attention to client requests or comments starting with, “why don’t you….have virtual visits like my doctor,” “why don’t you…mail medications to my house.” These comments provide a window into your clients’ expectations – often due to what they are experiencing with other businesses and physicians. 

Team performance becomes a mix of business metrics and personnel information. Team satisfaction surveys, completion of training modules, continuing education, and other means of assessing team engagement and professional growth are essential indicators for team performance. 

Efficiency indicators include staff hours per transaction, doctor hours per transaction, staff to DVM ratio, overtime paid, revenue per full-time equivalent DVMs, invoices per FTE DVMs, and late to work and call off trends. Additional metrics may sound like business trends, but they do allude to team performance – support staff wages as a percentage of revenue, income to expense ratios for lab, food, pharmacy, and the heartworm/flea/tick products. 

What if the wage as a percentage of revenue is rising higher than desired? The knee-jerk reaction to cut staffing levels or raise prices must be avoided until after a thorough assessment of other metrics. 

Perhaps it is noted that more overtime is paid because there are not enough trained personnel for surgery, or there is a problem with missing too many charges. There are several possibilities, and raising the bar for team performance will require a thorough study and a group effort to fix any shortcomings.

Encourage Team Effort

Veterinarian going over dog x-ray with nurse

It takes a team to raise the bar – and that means having the right people on your team, in the correct positions, working toward a common goal. This should be a red flag to managers – it starts with management laying the groundwork.

Putting an all-star team together requires hiring the right people, not just any warm body, but people who have the skills. You need people who are interested in continuously growing in knowledge and skills, creating a winning culture, and striving to achieve strategic goals. Hire the right people. Establish hiring standard procedures – everything from job descriptions, the wording of ads, interview questions, working interviews, employee handbook, and training manuals and checklists.

Once hired, don’t ignore the power of ongoing feedback and training. Conduct real-time reviews and regularly check in with the team. Get to know what they are doing, discuss what they should start doing or stop doing, what ideas they have, and where they are experiencing snags. 

In addition to strategic business goals, set individual goals to encourage each team member to become a better version of themselves – tracking progress and keeping everyone updated. Do not hesitate to correct workplace performance or release a poor performer. Raising the bar requires everyone to do their best.

Be sure to provide the team with the tools they will need to raise the bar. In addition to the metrics listed earlier, consider the technology and equipment the team is using. Asking the team to raise the bar on client service while neglecting the fact that there are only two phone lines into the business (and those lines are always busy) is not giving the team the necessary tools or equipment they need to raise the client service bar. 

Prioritize Improvements at Your Vet Hospital 

Last but not least, make raising the bar a priority. If owners or managers do not walk the talk, if regular status updates are not given, if the topic is never brought up again, then the team will not view it as a priority and will slip back into old habits. 

Tell the team why it is critical to raise the bar, assign a coordinator to spearhead the project and be the go-to person for updates and training, and reward the team for small wins along the way.

The veterinary industry is changing – medical advancements, client expectations, business models, virtual care… ignoring the changes by never raising the bar will ultimately result in failure. It may not mean a complete closure of the practice, but it may show in poor patient medical outcomes, low client bonding, and a loss of quality team members. 

Look at your three bars’ status, gather the numbers, build a great team, and enjoy the successes with every bar-raising notch.

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