Every day presents new PR opportunities
Why does the public have such a divergent view of veterinary and human medicine?
Much of the perception can be traced to television shows that depict, kindly, but not very savvy veterinarians, the leadership of organized veterinary medicine not being more proactive, and much of it is certainly due to the natural consequence of the differing values placed on animal versus human life.
Realistically, whatever problems DVMs have image-wise, we know it is a situation that will not be easily or quickly rectified.
Fortunately, each practitioner, every day can take some responsibility and demonstrate competencies to clients, thereby elevating the public awareness of the profession's medical and technical achievements. Personal efforts will pay immediate dividends in greater respect, personal satisfaction, and, hopefully, in financial benefits.
Many of the following image-enhancers are not capital intensive and can easily be integrated into the average practice with planning, budgeting and delegation. Others will necessitate increases in the practice's capital expenditures or personnel.
1. Dress the part "Dress for success" is not an idle phrase lifted from the pages of G.Q. or Women's Wear Daily. There are direct correlations demonstrated between your manner of dress and the client's buying decisions. Recent business publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Fortune have sounded the death knell to the casual office attire trend and are heralding the return of the suit and tie. Dress as a person who should be respected and whose advice should be heeded. This applies to everyone on staff.
2. Staff training Training your staff to understand and be able to discuss basic diseases, medications and protocols is so important. Poor communication from your staff can undermine the best of client relationships. It is also very important in choosing staff who use correct grammar. Standardizing responses for common medical questions will enhance your client's confidence in your practice.
3. Hospital tours Hospital tours allow the client to see areas of veterinary medicine that normally are beyond their view and have been left to their imagination. The ability to see and understand veterinary medicine in a tangible form can be very powerful.
4. Pagers Providing digital pagers for clients with hospitalized or surgical patients allows you to notify them immediately of changes in the patient's status. They also eliminate the frustration of trying to contact a client who is not at the number they gave you on the treatment authorization form. Pagers can be controlled through most carriers using a program on your computer and the Internet.
5. Timely call backs Designated staff members who contact clients and discuss patient status in understandable medical terminology help establish a caring image with clients. The same is true with calls to discuss the condition of released patients.
6. Communication of lab results How many times have you had to initiate calls to a physician to find out about your laboratory results? The ability to deliver test results to clients quickly and integrate the results into the treatment protocol will easily impress your clients.
7. Your hospital Your hospital doesn't have to be a "Hospital of the Year" award winner to be kept spotlessly clean, well decorated and well maintained. Everything from your landscaping and signage to the equipment and neatness of your front desk sends a message to the client about your approach to veterinary care.
8. Respect for the doctor Respect for the doctor begins with the staff. All staff should address you as such while in the professional atmosphere or when referencing you in patient dialogue.
9. Brochures The computer age, Paper Direct Catalogue and digital photography have made brochures affordable and accessible to most practices. These brochures may be as involved or as simple as your taste dictates, but should emphasize the services available at your practice. Have several people proofread your work prior to printing. Relying on spell check to catch mistakes can be unwise and nothing is more damaging than having a brochure with misspellings and grammar errors.
10. Educational handouts An educational handout is easier than a brochure. Use the handout to discuss the expected protocol of treatment and expected outcomes for the pet based on the differential diagnosis. Prepare handouts for the 10 most common diagnoses that you encounter in your hospital. These handouts will not only help the client remember what you explained to them in the exam room but will also give you the opportunity to showcase your abilities in diagnostics and treatment. If you have a hospital brochure try and coordinate the appearance of the handout with the brochure. (Another hint: If you have a predominant accent color in your hospital, try to coordinate this color in your printed material.)
11. Community involvement Veterinary and staff involvement in the community with younger individuals such as scouting, Future Farmers of America, 4H or schools give your hospital the opportunity to educate a new generation and possibly the parents, also.
12. Glass-walled surgery suite These architectural enhancements allow clients to observe a very technical aspect of your practice. A word of caution here. Many clients would perceive what we consider to be normal as offensive. I recently had a client who found the presence of a bucket in the surgery suite to be offensive. Be very judicious about your use of this enhancement.
13. Video cameras Placing video cameras in your hospital that allow clients to observe behind the scenes activity is another method of educating clients. Again, this can be problematic and puts you and your staff in the position of possibly offending a client. Many clients may find this behind-the-scenes vision to be fascinating, but use this feature judiciously as well. One twist on this would be allowing clients to observe their hospitalized or boarding pet. This would be very appreciated if the client was away and unable to visit the pet personally or if a personal visit would be upsetting to them.
14. Web pages A professionally designed Web page with many pictures displaying the full array of equipment that is now found in state of the art veterinary hospitals can be an educational and positive promotional piece. Be sure that your Web page is updated regularly and is free from operational problems.
15. Acquiring, using latest technology Television has educated the public about new medical technology. They will expect this technology to be available for their pet. Has your practice considered telemedicine, digital radiographs, digital monitoring equipment, digital tonometry and the wide variety of other equipment that is currently available? Does your practice provide it, use it and have you informed your client base of its availability?
Make it pay
Give yourself permission to charge for your investment in technology and human resource competence.
Don't expect the public to appreciate the level and sophistication of medicine without appropriately charging for that knowledge base as well as the educational investment and capital requirements to maintain your level of sophistication and competence. Don't expect your appropriate charging to be met with 100 percent acceptance by clients. There are always those who will price shop, compare and complain. My staff has developed a response for these clients, "That's not the level of care we provide at (insert your hospital name.)"
Recent surveys suggest that under-charging for services may imply that you are not proficient or up-to-date in terms of technology and education. Practices that charge a higher fee generally have a client base that is more satisfied with the level of services received.
Dr. North is a consultant in the division of management consultation services of Owen E. McCafferty, CPA, Inc., Cleveland. He is practice management certified from Michigan State University. His special areas of interest include electronic technology implementation, front office organization and management, human resource and leadership training, and internal and external marketing programs.