Intranet, distance learning can help

Intranet, distance learning can help

Jul 01, 2005

If you work in a contemporary veterinary practice, you are probably all too familiar with the continuous demands of developing and maintaining a well-trained staff.

These demands are not specific to veterinary medicine, however. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has just released the results of an extensive survey that confirms that the majority of the business world is seeing the exact same workplace trends that we are seeing in veterinary medicine.

New staff members are arriving with less basic education and social skills than in past decades. And Generation X'ers (those born between 1964 and 1985) have an intense desire to continue to learn new skills in order to stay engaged and motivated. Unfortunately, Generation X'ers do not share their Baby Boomer parents' sense of loyalty to their employer. X'ers will leave and go to the next practice down the road at the drop of a hat, taking all of the training you invested with them.

Therefore, it is the wise practice owners and managers that realize that while training is an important component of a staff retention plan, it is not capable of keeping staff loyal and motivated on its own — this takes a combination of efforts.

Even without the specific challenges presented by the Generation X workforce, which is the majority of our current support staff members, staff training is an awesome responsibility. Studies estimate that 50 percent of your staff's medical knowledge becomes outdated within three to five years. This means if you want to practice "progressive medicine" you must "refresh" 10-15 percent of your staff's knowledge every year just to stay current. That is a lot of learning per lifetime if you plan on practicing for 20, 30 or 40 years!

This sounds pretty daunting before we even discuss the continual shortage of veterinary technicians. Schools continue to ramp up their programs and graduate more technicians, but they are not keeping up with demand, so every year it seems much harder to find good ones. Once again, retention becomes a huge factor in the technician shortage as the career life expectancy of a technician struggles to stay above the seven-year mark.

Fighting back Now that we have defined the magnitude of the "training gap" in veterinary medicine, how can we develop strategies to meet these demands?

There are two immediate solutions available to help practice managers and owners succeed. The first is through the increased use of business technology to automate as many functions as possible in order to reduce our dependency on staff. The second option is to embrace contemporary media options in order to meet training needs.

Veterinarians see a clear value in having the latest medical technology and the newest pharmaceuticals, but how about the latest business technologies and paradigms? It is not atypical to enter a veterinary practice today and find an ultrasound, an endoscope, a state-of-the-art, in-house laboratory and a computer system with basic practice software from the1990s.

Business technology abounds, and it is not just for the Fortune 500 companies with large operating budgets anymore. The business technology market today is populated by many products designed for use in the small business environment (interestingly known as the largest segment of the business market).

It's time for veterinary practices to embrace the potential gains offered by these technologies. These technologies have the ability to reduce the number of staff needed to maintain practice operations, or to decrease the number of highly trained individuals needed by a practice.

Changes afoot Let's take a look at a state-of-the-art veterinary practice. Telephones have left the reception area so that receptionists can focus on the clients in front of them. Central switchboards have been replaced by electronic customer relationship management (eCRM) software. Placing clients on hold so you can walk someplace else to locate information (such as a doctor or a medical record) no longer happens when wireless digital headsets are used. Writing messages on little pink pieces of paper is out, and voice mail is in. Paper medical records stuffed in hanging file folders have been replaced by electronic medical records. Showing a client an educational videotape doesn't happen; placing a tablet computer in their hands to watch a streaming video presentation does. One of our clients recently designed an emergency practice without a reception counter. Instead, the staff will follow the client throughout the practice space with tablet PCs.