Art and Science
Pay attention to that conjunction; clinical veterinary practice is both of these things. I’ll admit it up front, experts can, at times, make intuitive leaps that bring the best algorithms to their knees. However, the concept of ‘best practice’ isn’t based on flashy, yet rare, pyrotechnics, but rather on delivering reliable, high-quality medicine founded in science. And, from a practical standpoint, that means protocols.
I have to ask, when did it become a bad thing to follow a recipe?
The analogy isn’t much of a reach. You can deride the bland sameness of a chain fast food experience, but fine restaurants pursue that same repeatability. Seasoned chefs create dishes and put together a unique menu before they open a new restaurant – that’s the art of their craft – but, after that, executing on them is the true challenge. The goal is to reproduce the same wonderful dining experience for every guest, time after time.
Following the recipe
That’s what veterinary professionals do. Clients want the same dependable, high-quality experience every time they visit a practice, just as they do at their favorite restaurant. However, clients are generally poor judges of the quality medicine they receive (although they’re good judges of service quality). What they can do is compare today’s experience with their previous visits.
In a solo practice, it’s easier to get this consistency right. In a multi-doctor practice, it’s critical to establish, and then scrupulously follow, the recipe.
For example: Fluffy comes in for a wellness visit and sees Dr. X, who administers a Lyme vaccine booster and a ProHeart 6 injection. Next year, Dr. Y opines that the vaccine isn’t that effective and prefers that Fluffy receive a monthly Revolution application to protect against heartworms. Walking out to the front desk, Fluffy’s owner is greeted by a prominent display of Heartgard.
Coupling an inconstant message with a variable client experience is a recipe for disaster.
Your client relationships are built on trust. After all, the cost of switching practices is very low: you take the reminder postcard, spend a few minutes on the internet and call another practice for an appointment. It’s effortless.
Clients trust their pets’ veterinarian because they believe their pets’ best interest is at heart and the doctors know what they’re doing. In the scenario above, where the medical approaches vary, clients are left to wonder: who’s right? Worse yet, maybe they’re both wrong. Can their recommendations be based on the latest science, or something else?
Your other audience
And it’s not just your clients who wonder – your staff will, too. Staff members evaluate the way each doctor diagnoses and treats her patients, and picks her favorites. That message will be translated to your clients in some way that is out of your control – by steering clients toward, or away, from particular doctors, questioning treatment plans or subtly giving clients permission to ignore service recommendations.
Allowing this dynamic to develop will damage patient care, client confidence and staff morality. At the end of the day, it hurts practice profitability, too.
Protocols to the rescue
How do you manage the tendency of veterinarians to be rugged individualists? Recognize that, in order to build protocols that work for your medical team, each team member has to have a meaningful role in their development. After all, everyone has a stake in the final product. When your staff takes ownership of protocols, they’re much more likely to follow them.
If you haven’t yet embraced the process, wellness protocols are a good place to start. For starters, there are well-established industry standards from which to build your unique protocols. Beyond that, there are enough places to allow for compromise, which is essential if the final product is to be appreciated as a group effort and not an edict from on high.
Build out your protocols from there. Others might include:
• Anesthesia and monitoring
• Pain management
• Dental care
• Recheck and testing schedules
Finally, when you’re done, publish them – literally. Your staff should be proud of them, and it helps to hold everyone accountable when they’re in black and white.
Remember: successful practices work hard to deliver service and trust, and protocols help bake them into the final experience. Enjoy!