4 ways a standard of care can benefit your practice

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Can a Standard of Care improve nearly EVERYTHING in your practice? Well, it may not fix that worn-out floor in your treatment room, but I believe Standards of Care can address a number of important management issues in veterinary practices. Let’s look at a few of them:


1. Your Standard of Care separates you from rising competition

a veterinarian with a high standard of care and a cat

To some of you, competition may once have been a single practice ten miles away. Now you’re challenged by many practices nearby, including corporate practices and subsidized spay/neuter clinics, plus Internet sales, a down economy and the lure of the big box stores — all chipping away at your business.

Clients can easily walk into a pet supply store and adopt a pet, have it trained, have it groomed, purchase its food, delight it with treats and toys, enjoy helpful service, and lastly and most importantly, satisfy its veterinary needs.

But wait – it gets worse. Veterinary chains that have mastered how to out-market and out-bid smaller veterinary practices are now trying to steal your best employees with buzzwords Click To Tweet such as upward mobility, job enrichment, flexible scheduling and job transfers throughout the country.

Your Standard of Care is what can separate you from all these competitors.


2. Standards of Care add strength to marketing

The Internet has exponentially widened the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots.” Cash-rich businesses are spending more time and more money on making sure their practices are most visible in Internet searches. In years past, less money meant smaller ads in the yellow pages. Now it means virtual invisibility. A Standard of Care may not be the answer to this problem, but it’s the start of the solution, since effective marketing is a translation of a crystal-clear understanding of the products and services about which you hope to educate your client base.


3. Your Standard of Care could win you a lawsuit

Another downside of a down economy is a frustrated consumer base that may be ripe for a legal battle in hopes of a cash windfall or just as a way to vent their general discontent. There may be no excuse or patience left for a mistake, however honest or unintended. A client who feels fed-up and over-charged may be eager to sue. Here your Standard of Care can mean the difference between winning or losing the lawsuit.


4. The #1 reason for establishing a Standard of Care: Managing your staff

a veterinarian with a high standard of care and a dogA Standard of Care is the perfect rallying point for your team. What goal could possibly satisfy the internal needs of all your staff better than an agreement on how to best take care of your patients and clients?

It’s the perfect jumping off point to examine how you hire, who you hire, how you train, what you train and how you review performance. It is an excellent measuring stick by which you can gauge success, failure and stagnation. It will ultimately reveal how you speak to clients, and maybe more importantly, how you speak to each other. It will reduce errors, improve compliance, and if followed through accurately, improve pet health and extend pet lives.

In challenging the many growing advantages larger veterinary entities are and will be offering clients, private practitioners must nurture and flesh out the elements of their practice’s greatest strengths. Examples might include a highly individualized client experience; a rich work culture ignited by the thoughts and efforts of those on site; and a selection of services, products and methodologies positively endorsed and embraced by the entire practice team. A Standard of Care provides the foundation by which all of this can be achieved.

But aren’t you telling me how to practice medicine?

Unless your Standard of Care recommends superfluous services or products, the argument that it limits a practitioner’s ability to practice his or her medicine isn’t a cogent one. A Standard of Care is a thought-through approach to wellness, preventative medicine and disease, designed to limit errors and avoid oversights. Click To Tweet

If you’re ever asked to provide care in accordance with a standard in which you strongly don’t believe, I would urge you to discuss this with your supervisor immediately. If, after that conversation, you still don’t believe in the services or products that you are asked to perform or recommend, then leave and find a practice that matches your beliefs, or open your own practice.

grey paws in a row

Suggested steps for establishing your own Standard of Care

  • Beginning a Standard of Care can be as simple as a lunch with all of the doctors – owners and associates — in a private forum where they can comfortably exchange thoughts and ideas.
  • Narrow the discussion to encourage in-depth content, e.g., have the initial lunch forum focused solely on canine care.
  • Expand the next lunch to explore the needs of cats.
  • In subsequent meetings, continue to drill down. What recommendations should be made to specific age groups or breeds? Make sure that you include what preventative-medicine discussions you should have with whom and when.
  • Next, address diagnostic protocols, recommendations, and treatments that you should regularly offer those patients presenting with common ailments such as ear infections, diarrhea, vomiting, flea infestations, itchy skin, lumps and bumps, dental disease, obesity, mobility issues and so on.
  • Once the standards have been put down in writing, have the associates try them out for a week or so, and explore whether they are comfortable making the recommendations consistently. Confirm again that they understand the value of the recommendations. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.
  • When an impasse occurs, try inviting a doctor who specializes in the area to come in and address your veterinarians on the issue and listen to their thoughts. Having the matter settled by a veterinarian other than the owner is also helpful in generating enthusiasm for the matter throughout the group and earning buy-in.
  • When you and the rest of the veterinarians are satisfied with your standards, it’s time to take them to your entire team. Have all the doctors on hand to answer any questions that the staff may have regarding the standards.
  • Ask the client care representatives, your assistants and your veterinary technicians how they can participate in achieving owner compliance with the standards and assisting with any kind of client education. This is critical. Perhaps they can gather some of the educational materials themselves and bring it to the group for discussion and review. Perhaps there is a part of the phone, admit, triage, discharge or invoicing protocols that can be adjusted to improve client awareness of the standards and their compliance.
  • Bring Standard of Care compliance and education topics back to the meeting table once or twice monthly. This way, opportunities will continually arise for you to write your conclusions down as part of that training manual you’ve been meaning to build.
  • Discussions on how to educate clients about services can turn into phone scripts. Evaluations of how successful your team members are in making Standard of Care recommendations can be the catalyst for the creation of a review system that is fair, objective and purposeful.
Compliance Tracker In the years that I have been working with practices, I have found no better goal for the entire team to pursue than a Standard of Care. Its value is unchallengeable and is a solid foundation on which to build an honest, caring, skilled and productive team.

On the subject of care, if you’re looking for a tool to help you monitor your standards as they pertain specifically to preventive medicine, be sure to check out the VetSuccess Compliance Tracker.


Brenda Tassava is veterinary consultant and veterinary conference speaker. She consults privately with veterinary practices around the U.S. Brenda can be reached at brenda@vetsupport.com.

This blog has been updated and was originally published on July 24, 2015.