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Veterinarian Technician November 2009 (Vol 30, No 11)

Management Matters — When the Appointment Schedule Goes Out the Window

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    When you get to work in the morning and see that every slot on the appointment schedule is full, you may groan and think, Wow, we're going to be busy today. You also know that any "hiccups" during the day, such as a client running late, an emergency case, or a client who decides to bring more than one pet for a single-pet slot, could make you fall behind.

    Conversely, when you arrive in the morning and see an appointment schedule with many openings, you know better than to be lulled into a false sense of security. The days that look to be the best can easily turn into the worst as phone calls and clients start pouring in unexpectedly. To help yourself and your team make it through the tough days, you must first believe that you will survive them.

    Begin each day by checking your attitude at the door, so to speak. When you look at the appointment schedule and imagine the myriad things that could go wrong, it's easy to let your good mood start to slip away. However, that won't help anyone—least of all you. It is important to remember that no matter what happens, the day will eventually end and you will likely be alive at the end of it.

    There are a few ways to protect the appointment schedule from too much disruption. Most practices benefit from keeping an emergency slot open in both the morning and afternoon, just in case an emergency does arrive or circumstances complicate the schedule. This may help to even out the workload for the team, but often the person most affected by any glitch in the appointment schedule is a client. When clients become angry, upset, or impatient, it can compound the staff's problems. To minimize the negative effects of schedule disruptions on your clients, you can take proactive and active measures.

    To those of us in the veterinary field, it seems like common sense that a client should understand if appointments run late, particularly if it's because a pet presented because of an unexpected crisis. Yet these days, everyone is very busy and may have set aside only the bare minimum of time for a pet's appointment. It may be helpful to have a friendly sign in your lobby, at the front desk, and even on your new client paperwork and Web site that states, "Our goal is to respect your scheduled appointment time. However, if another pet needs our immediate attention, we hope you will understand. We appreciate your patience as we strive to take care of all our animal friends in a timely manner." Even if clients don't see this sign until after they have yelled at the receptionist, it may make a difference in how they react in the future.

    That is the proactive approach, but you also need to be very active in handling the reality of an appointment schedule gone haywire. As mentioned, you and your team will continue to work as hard and as fast as you can to get to each patient that needs your services. However, clients are often thinking only of their own schedule. The more communication you have with clients who are waiting, the better—even if you have to deliver bad news.

    Do not leave clients in limbo because this will only compound the problem and spoil their mood even more. If appointments begin to run late, the receptionist should be told and should mention it when other clients arrive. People need to be given a fair and honest expectation of how long their wait will be. At this point, you may also be able to offer alternatives to waiting. For instance, is it possible for the pet to be left at the practice while the client goes to his or her next errand, or would the client rather reschedule for another time or day?

    If the client agrees to wait, keep him or her updated. The front desk should stay in touch with the technicians who are assisting the doctor(s) so that clients can be updated on how the situation is progressing.

    If the receptionist has updated a client a few times, it is advisable to have the technician come out to apologize and give a projected time frame. When the patient is finally seen, the veterinarian should also apologize to the client for the wait. The more people who show they care about the client's situation, the better the client will feel at the end of the visit.

    The most important thing is to keep calm, continue communicating, and maintain a positive attitude. Becoming frazzled only adds to the problem and can contribute to inefficiencies. If you keep smiling, give genuine apologies and accurate updates, you should survive until the end of your shift!

    NEXT: Peer Reviewed — Care in the Golden Years: Understanding Canine Cognitive Dysfunction


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