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6 Reasons Vet Appointments Run Behind (And How to Prevent It)

Samantha Toy, RVT May 23, 2018 2:36:00 PM Veterinary, Vet Tech
If you work in a day practice like I used to, I know that you will understand my former frustration with appointments running behind. In my time as a receptionist, it meant struggling to schedule accurately, dealing with understandably annoyed clients, and at times a sense of chaos trying to keep up with where things were at. The reason appointments get behind can vary, but here are some of the most common (along with some ideas of how to deal with them!).
 Veterinary Dog Examination
1) The client's a talker
Let's face it: some clients are just chatty. In my previous life I would often resort to (politely) interrupting these types of appointments with a "phone call from Dr. Specialist" just to give the vet an out. Okay, okay, it wasn't particularly honest, but sometimes it was a necessary last resort! And the vets were appreciative they were able to get into the next exam.
2) The staff's a talker
While being outgoing and friendly is a welcomed trait in a veterinary professional, sometimes these team members can take it a little too far. Taking too long with one client will no doubt delay dealing with others. If this sounds familiar, you might want to check out this article from Veterinary Practice News in which they address how to deal with this type of situation. 
3) There's more going on than you thought
Sometimes it's just difficult to gauge the seriousness of a patient's ailment over the phone. All too often, this causes issues with the schedule if they're booked in for a regular appointment. In one of my former hospitals, we had a very effective "drop off" system in place. Instead of booking a specific time for an appointment, we encouraged owners to drop the pet off with us in order to give us time and flexibility to examine the pet, do a diagnostic workup, and create a treatment plan. We had a rule of thumb that if it sounded like more than a straight forward 20 min appointment, encourage a drop-off. You'd think clients might be a bit hesitant with this type of arrangement but the way we presented it to them helped them feel comfortable leaving their pet with us. "It's in Fluffy's best interest that we figure out what's going on, and sometimes that takes more time than a regular appointment slot allows. We want to make sure she gets the help that she needs, and don't want to rush things. We'll keep her here just until she's ready to go and call you to come pick her up." Clients are people too. They know things can get hectic and that running tests take time, and usually we didn't have any issues with this system.
 Late for Veterinary Appointment
4) Clients are late 
What's your practice's policy for late arrivals? Do you A) see them anyway and make others wait? B) cancel the appointment altogether and rebook? C) Let them wait in the lobby for an opening to come up? If your answer was A, we hate to say it but.... you're an enabler. A first time offender, okay, I understand, but a perpetually late client who always gets seen when they arrive no matter how late they are, that's an issue. If you have a late policy, review it with your team (maybe some of them aren't even sure what they should be telling these clients). If you don't have a late policy and are getting frustrated with this type of situation, maybe it's time to develop one.
5) The vet is not in the room
Veterinarians: this one's for you. It stands to reason that if you aren't where you're supposed to be, things will get backed up. We know you're just trying to help and want to oversee things, but instead of helping draw blood on the previous patient, or restrain, or do 458723 other things a vet should not be doing, use your technicians and let them take over while you get into the next appointment.
6) You have no idea how long your appointments actually take
As Oprah says, "If you know better, you do better." If you're booking "check ear" appointments for 15 mins in the schedule, and don't track how long those appointments are actually taking, you wouldn't realize that once you take the exam, swabbing, analyzing, cleaning, and making up meds all into account, you need to increase the appointment slot to 30 min instead. Being optimistic and not realistic is often a killer when it comes to scheduling. Our advice? Start tracking how long each step of your appointment takes, analyze the results, and make goals to improve. And guess what? There's an app for that!
Do you run into the problem of your appointments running behind? What does your practice do to combat it?
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