Information as veterinary practice gold - Veterinary Practice
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Information as veterinary practice gold

JAMES BARNES continues his series on ‘practical tips for success’

IN the January issue we explored
the importance of smooth workflow
to a successful practice and
described how practice
management automation can help
ensure a properly directed daily
process that serves clients, patients,
staff – and practice profit.

Just as people and
patients move through
your practice, so does
a wide variety of
information from a
number of sources.
Are you taking best
advantage of this
information goldmine?

equipment can wear
out, staff may come
and go, but the
information that flows
to your practice each
day can be your
greatest business asset.

Multiple streams of valuable data

It should come as no surprise that the
most important information you can
capture and hold is client- and patient-
related. These data come from a variety
of sources and you should be prepared
to capture categorise, access and use
them effectively.

Consider the myriad ways new
information flows into your practice.
Clients ring throughout the day to ask
questions or book appointments.
During these conversations they may
provide important information about
the health status of their pet or large
animal(s), and their own preferences
regarding veterinary care.

Faxes and e-mails directly to
veterinarians and/or to staff members
are other information pathways. Your
staff will make reminder calls to clients
of upcoming appointments and to
follow up on treatments – during which
important information gathering can
take place.

Animal owners are not the sole
source of incoming information about
a patient. Your practice may also
receive phone calls, e-mails or face-to-
face reports from authorised care-
givers, such as a farrier, trainer or even
a pet-sitter on duty while the owner is away.

Patient visits are the next obvious information gathering point.
Depending upon the type of practice,
patients may visit your location or you
may visit them at the farm, racetrack or
other non-clinic location. During these
visits a wide variety of information can be generated, including
medical record data
and other visit details,
financial information,
case follow-through
notes and future

Consider also the
daily interchange
amongst veterinarians
and staff members.
The most casual
conversation may
contain observations
important to the health
of a patient or the
inter-relationship with a client.

Finally, a variety of information may be captured from hand-written or
printed forms, including client consent
forms, financial information forms,
insurance company forms and billing
travel sheets.

Harnessing the power of
It’s one thing to understand the treasure
trove of information flowing into your
practice; quite another to use it
effectively. As author Clarence Day put
it, “Information’s pretty thin stuff
unless mixed with experience.”

Here are practical steps you can
take to ensure that information is
considered and used in the right way.
The “right way” depends on your
professional experience and your
specific practice needs:

  • Common sense planning.

harness information properly, you need
to plan ahead. Consider which types of
information are most important to you,
and how you can best capture, access
and use the data. Remember to consult
not only with your staff but your
practice management vendor. Your
system should be organised to capture
and display information in the form
best suited to your needs and your
vendor can be a real partner in that

  • Assign an “information specialist”.

It’s best to appoint one person within
your practice to organise and supervise
information management. Also,
consider the type and depth of training
your staff may need to ensure
information is used wisely and no
important data are missed. This point
person may also be your best option as
the lead staff trainer.

  • Inventory information tools.

Consider the information management
tools you have at your disposal, then
decide how to use them to best
advantage. In addition to practice
management technology, other popular
information software such as Microsoft,
Excel and Word can play an important
part. If you don’t have all of the tools
you need, invest now or when your
budget allows.

  • Understand tools and learn

Veterinarians must invest
in their own on-going education to
maintain credentials. You should take
the same view toward practice and
information management education for
your staff. Unfortunately, most
information technology tools are
underutilised by businesses of all kinds.
As one anonymous author put it: “The
Stone Age was marked by man’s clever
use of crude tools; the information age,
to date, has been marked by man’s
crude use of clever tools.”

Check out opportunities for
continuing education and share
information with other practices via
vendor user round-tables and customer
conferences. Also, stay aware of
information technology trends and be
prepared to invest when the time is

  • Document “best practice”
    information management.

Knowing how to use information to best
advantage includes documentation. Put
in writing the protocols and guidelines
that govern how your practice is run.
For example, you might choose to
document standard staff responses to
frequently asked client questions,
scheduling guidelines, explanations of
the value surrounding your standards of
care, financial policies, information
technology how-to, accounts receivable
protocols, shipping and packaging
information, how to handle client
complaints, and more.

You may choose to produce the
manual in hard copy, or to maintain it
on-line as part of your information
management system. On-line manuals
are particularly efficient since, when
changes occur, you need make only one
change, rather than altering or
redistributing multiple hard copy

  • An important client privacy tip.

Finally, all veterinarians know the
importance of maintaining both client
and patient privacy, but do you have a
clearly stated privacy policy in place? Be
sure to document the policy, include it
in employee agreements and handbooks
and ensure each staff member clearly
understands all privacy elements. Also,
communicate the privacy policy to your
clients. It will both reassure them and
build trust in your services.

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