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Veterinary Forum January 2008 (Vol 25, No 1)

Doctor to Doctor: Fuss-free visits

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    November's segment focused on how to identify and court the most desirable clients for your practice. This month, we will talk about making convenient services available to keep those clients happy and coming back.

    Money is time

    Client convenience means making services available so that potential clients can find, obtain, receive and use those services. The fast food industry has trained the public to expect quick service. These days, it seems that instant gratification takes too long.

    The veterinarian's availability may have greater impact on future success than his or her ability. Convenience will be the number one reason that a practice is able to retain clients. People had rather spend money than time — at least up to a point. Clinic location is most important in attracting new clients, but convenience is the most important factor in client retention.

    Clients may be counting our faults while waiting. Therefore, successful practices should make convenience for clients a top priority — from the first phone call to when they leave the parking lot at the end of a visit.

    Some components of successful client convenience include:

    • Phone answering — Make sure someone is available to answer the phone at all times, preferably within the first few rings. The person on the other end of the line may just want to leave a message, but no one enjoys talking to an answering machine.
    • Parking lot — Make sure your parking lot is clean and clear, even in harsh weather. Clients who have to struggle to get their pet through the door will likely form a negative opinion of a practice even before seeing a doctor. If possible, have all delivery or postal drivers report to an entrance that clients do not use.
    • Client flow — Maximize efficiency through all stages of a client visit, from admission to discharge. If possible, have two separate reception areas or windows for clients who are entering and those who are leaving.

    It is important to maximize clinic efficiency to enhance client convenience. When clients see long waiting lines for appointments, people congregating at the reception area or a cluttered business office, they will leave with the impression that your clinic is not operating to maximum efficiency.

    Up-front duties

    For greatest convenience, reevaluate your clinic hours to accommodate clients who do not have flexible schedules. Consider operating from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm during the week and 8:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturday. This gives clients more opportunities to schedule appointments with your clinic and may prevent them from going to a competitor.

    Hiring a night receptionist to work during the traditional off-peak times is ideal for completing certain vital, time-consuming tasks, such as:

    • Late admissions and dismissals
    • Calling clients for progress reports
    • Telephone feeding reminders for the next day's surgeries
    • Appointment reminders

    It is important to schedule enough staff members to ensure efficient admission and discharge of patients. Unexpected problems are par for the course, but if a minor snag becomes a major hassle because a support system is lacking, it will stay in the mind of a client and influence future decisions.

    A stocked cabinet that is filled with over-the-counter products and frequent refills should be within easy reach of the reception area to keep the flow of clients steady and well organized.

    Consider investing in a computer program that can handle appointment scheduling so that clients can set a time for follow-up visits at any computer terminal in the hospital. This will help avoid congestion at the front desk.

    Scheduling conflicts

    Waiting time is one of the most common complaints clients report about their visits to the veterinarian. Scheduling appointments to keep as many people happy as possible while still offering a quality standard of care can be as much of an art as it is a science.

    To keep client waiting times to a minimum, consider creating 10-minute appointment-scheduling blocks or two appointments — 1 sick pet and 1 wellness visit — every 30 minutes. Because most of a wellness visit can be handled by the staff while the majority of the sick pet appointment is handled by the veterinarian, this strategy will maximize the efficiency of the clinic's personnel.

    Clients want you to remember that it is their time and money. They are doing you a favor by choosing you to provide professional services for their pets. Today's client has an amazing array of options for veterinary care. The bottom line now is that if you do not make client convenience a top priority, one of your competitors will.

    NEXT: Dogs seem to be deep thinkers


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