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Doing what you do best - improving staff utilization (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2009

Improved staff utilization is a more critical element of successful practices now than ever before. Practices that want to become more profitable can no longer just count on fee increases to achieve this goal. Improved profitability and patient care must come from improved busienss practices. In addition, employees who are allowed to learn and grow and use more skills are generally happier in their jobs and more likely to stay with the practice than those who are only allowed to do less interesting tasks. Effective leveraging of employees is also critical to the productivity of the veterinarians and the practice as a whole. Veterinarians who delegate duties to appropriate staff members are able to see more clients and generate more gross revenue and profits. This increased profitability is essential to providing good quality medicine and surgery and to continual investment in team members in the form of increased salaries and benefits and increased continuing education.

In order to achieve optimal staff utilization, the practice must:

     • Have an owner or practice manager with a strong set of financial, managerial and HR skills—the title isn't enough
     • Have a detailed, understanding of the skills staff members must have to provide outstanding patient care and client service
     • Hire effectively—find and keep the employees with the right skills and attitudes necessary to achieve the practice's goals
     • Provide high quality, effective and ongoing training programs to both new team members as well as those who have been in the practice for awhile
     • Have high levels of employee retention—revolving door employees aren't around long enough to be efficient and effective
     • Design and implement efficient policies, procedures and systems for getting things done
     • Schedule staff, appointments, and surgeries effectively and in synch with each other
     • Delegate effectively—tasks should be done by the lowest level person who can do the job properly
     • Monitor staff activities frequently—in most practices staff are always busy doing something—what they are doing, however, is the key point—is it the most important activity that should be done?
     • Regularly review staff utilization metrics

Some of these key areas are discussed below

Management staff

Financially successful practices are, almost by definition, well-managed practices. It used to be possible to have a successful practice without a great deal of business skills, but this is no longer true. Clients have higher expectations in both the medical and clients service arenas, veterinarians face increased competition, and the complexity of business regulation has increased.

Most people aren't born with a full set of good management skills. Just as it took training and practice to learn to perform an OHE, it takes similar dedication to become a skilled manager. One difficulty in veterinary medicine is that most veterinarians do not graduate from veterinary school with a solid grounding in business skills. Veterinary school curriculums are already strained by the burgeoning amount of veterinary knowledge that needs to be passed on to students and most students didn't take business courses in their undergraduate years. Another difficulty is that many veterinarians aren't inherently interested in business management. They went to veterinary school to learn to practice medicine, not to be a business manager. Many practices have hired practice managers to take on the business side of the practice. However, not all managers have been given the training and resources they need to do their jobs well. Fortunately, these are correctible problems.

Management duties are handled differently in different practices depending on the size of the practice, the interests of the owner veterinarians and the money available to hire managerial help. In some practices, the owner veterinarians do all of the management work either out of necessity or because they enjoy it. In other practices, the owners have hired a full-time, experienced practice manager with the result that the veterinarians primarily practice medicine. The owners make the high-level decisions, but leave day-to-day management to those paid and trained to do it. In other practices, management duties are divided between the owners and other individuals, including support staff, practice managers or associate veterinarians. As practices get bigger and as management duties become more complex, it becomes more necessary to have highly skilled, professional managers in place. Veterinarians will contribute more to the profitability of the clinic through the practice of medicine and surgery than by being managers.

While owners certainly don't have to be involved in the day-to-day management activities of a practice, it is critical that they provide vision and leadership to the business. In addition, they need to set the framework for the decisions to be made, direct and approve the overall activities, and support the management personnel in their responsibilities.