Strategies involving follow-up care can increase progress exams. Here's a scenario:
A veterinarian diagnoses an ear infection in a Basset Hound and has the technician demonstrate how to clean the dog’s ears and apply ointment. The doctor says, “I’d like to see your dog again in two weeks for a recheck.” What the client interprets is, “If the ears don’t get better, come back.” The client leaves the exam room, passing through the mind-erase hallway on the way to check out. The receptionist, who wasn’t in the exam room to hear the diagnosis and need for follow-up care, collects payment and doesn’t schedule the future exam.
Failure to schedule follow-up care fails the health of patients – and the practice. According to a Veterinary Hospital Managers’ Association report, 76 percent of clinics always or usually forward book progress exams.1 Missing 24 percent of follow-up care could cost a clinic thousands in lost revenue. According to the AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, 9th edition, the average progress exam fee is $35.05.2 A transaction would be higher if additional diagnostics and medications are needed. Here are strategies to improve follow-up care:
AVOID SAYING “RECHECK,” WHICH CLIENTS MAY PERCEIVE AS FREE AND OPTIONAL
Use the term “medical progress exam” to clearly explain that you’re following up on a previously diagnosed problem. Update this term in the practice-management software and during conversations with clients.
FORWARD BOOK THE PATIENT’S NEXT EXAM DURING THE CURRENT VISIT
At the time of diagnosis, the doctor should specify when follow-up care is due. Say, “I will need to see your dog again in two weeks for a medical progress exam, which would be on <date>. I will examine your dog again to make sure the ear infection has healed. Follow-up care is important because ear infections can be painful and recur. The receptionist will make your appointment for <date> during checkout.”
Always say “need” instead of “recommend.” State the exact date of follow-up care. If today is Feb. 8 and you want to examine the dog again in two weeks, explain that care will be due on Feb. 22.
If the clinic has computers in exam rooms, the technician could book the next exam now. If the client will pay at the front desk, use a travel sheet or note when care is due in the paper chart or electronic medical record. This alerts the receptionist that she needs to schedule another exam.
SCHEDULE FIRST, PAY LAST
During checkout, the receptionist should schedule the progress exam before collecting payment for today’s services. Then the appointment reminder will print on today’s receipt.
The receptionist would say, “Dr. <Name> needs to see your dog again in two weeks for a medical progress exam for his ear infection. Let’s schedule his exam first, and then I’ll get you checked out for today’s services. Two weeks from today would be <date>. Does this same time, 10 a.m., work for you?”
For progress exams, strive for “same day, same time, same doctor.” If the client is here at 10 a.m. on a Thursday, she can likely visit again at a similar time and day of the week. Book the exam with the same veterinarian, ensuring continuity of care and efficient use of exam time.
ENTER A CALLBACK IN YOUR SOFTWARE IF THE CLIENT DOESN’T SCHEDULE THE PROGRESS EXAM AT CHECKOUT
Call the client one week before services are due. The receptionist would say, “Dr. <Name> asked me to call you to schedule <pet name’s> medical progress exam for his ear infection. Dr. <Name> has an exam available at 10 a.m. next Thursday or 3 p.m. next Friday. Which choice works for you?”
Stating the doctor’s name brings credibility and authority to the call. Have receptionists use the two-yes-options scheduling technique, leading clients to book. This phrasing is more effective than “Do you want to schedule a progress exam?” which is a yes-or-no choice.
Get more advice on how to forward book exams in my YouTube video at www.youtube.com/csvets. Share these strategies and encourage a team approach, involving the doctor, technician and receptionist, so clients clearly know when to return. You’ll improve patient care, client satisfaction and hospital revenue.
1. Partners for Healthy Pets’ tips on forward booking. Accessed 11-18-15 at www.partnersforhealthypets.org/forward_booking.aspx.
2. AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, 9th edition, AAHA Press 2015; pp. 44.
Wendy S. Myers owns Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colo. She helps teams improve client service, communication skills and compliance through consulting, seminars and monthly CE credit webinars. Her latest book is 101 Communication Skills for Veterinary Teams. Wendy’s new “Callers Into New Clients Course” will teach receptionists how to turn more price shoppers into lifetime clients. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.csvets.com.