DVMs can better use technicians' expertise to improve client service

DVMs can better use technicians' expertise to improve client service

Dec 01, 2002

Cleveland-Veterinarians say letting technicians take on some routine duties of farm calls can build a practice and improve healthcare delivery efficiency.

It's a new way of doing business for the traditional food animal practice, says Debbie Stevenson, a food animal veterinary technician at Purdue University, but it can work to improve herd health in a variety of ways.

Dr. John Day of Dairy Health Services in Jerome, Idaho, agrees. He is proponent of better use of veterinary technicians and their skills to provide service to clients.

Stevenson, who works with beef veterinarian Dr. Mark Hilton, presented the topic at the American Association of Bovine Practitioners meeting in Madison.

Stevenson says that her role on the farm has been greatly enhanced. She has her own separate hourly rate, typically one-third of what the veterinarian charges, and she performs a variety of services for producers all within the parameters of the veterinary practice act.

"We are providing a good service to clients. If I go out and he charges $100 an hour, and I charge $30 an hour working under the protocols he established and trained me to perform, it benefits producers as well."

Clients see the benefit too and are calling to request her services for approved routine care, Hilton says.

He adds that if practitioners broke down their average workday between time spent with routine technical service and consulting work, it could help justify using technicians to concentrate more on herd health issues.

Stevenson explains that the trend in human healthcare is to expand the role of the technician? "Look at the dental profession. When was the last time a dentist cleaned your teeth? It just doesn't happen anymore," she says.

"I think the veterinary profession needs to follow this trend and it will make practice more efficient."

Stevenson adds that she would like to dispel myths about the use of veterinary technicians for veterinarians. "We are not competing against each other. We are on the same team. Sometimes I think food animal practitioners are a little bit afraid of giving up some routine duties."

She adds, that a technician's role in the practice should be more cleaning and stocking. "I have a degree in animal science, so after six years of education I just don't want to clean out a truck."

Stevenson says that since she has become more a part of the healthcare delivery team, her sense of doing important work for clients has improved immeasurably.

With a shortage of food animal veterinarians, the technician could prove to be an important component of the food animal veterinary team. But most practitioners have to justify a number of economic realities before they are often willing to add a technician to their payrolls. The issues typically include client acceptance, whether or not the area can justify the additional salary, and even relinquishing some control to technicians.

For Day and Hilton, they are both sold. Both veterinarians cite benefits including new profit centers, improved service to clients, increased efficiency of farm calls and quality of life improvements by allowing more time at home.

While Stevenson says that every state is different in the way it regulates veterinarians and technicians, Indiana allows routine procedures like deworming, vaccination and foot work. And of course, it is under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. So, with two-way radios, Stevenson and Hilton are in constant communication.

"We have become more efficient as a team," she adds.

It has become so successful, that Hilton and Stevenson are working toward drafting an exemption in the Indiana practice act for performing routine herd health tasks for technicians like castration and dehorning. Any changes to the state's practice act would need legislative approval, she explains.

Day adds that practitioners should really look closely at their practice act to see what duties a technician can legally perform since all states are different. He adds that most practice acts outlining technician duties seem to be written for small animal practices. He adds, when in doubt, call the veterinary board to help clarify the rules.

In Idaho, Day's technician, Jannell Kral, gets involved with the typical veterinary herd check, including vaccinations, marking heads, running the veterinary checklist, taking blood samples, feed samples, and monitors fresh cow, breeding and calving programs. She hygiene scores the cows, body condition scores groups, monitors refrigerator temperatures on dairy operations, collects bulk tank samples, whole herd cultures.

Day adds that in Idaho technicians cannot perform surgery, diagnose a condition or prescribe therapy, but other procedures are fair game under his supervision.