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CAN I CHARGE FOR MY ADVICE?

How long have veterinarians been giving their advice away for free? The answer is since the profession was started! Now we have entered into the twilight zone where everyone is scrambling to add more technology-based communication to their business, and are asking “can we charge our clients for our advice?” The answer is YES! So how can veterinarians transition to earning a living through telemedicine? First, you need to provide a telemedicine option for your clients whether it be with two-way texting or video consultation. Next you need to train your staff on how to communicate the new protocols you are implementing with telemedicine to the client. Lastly, you need to execute these changes and make your doctors follow protocol (I know, easier said than done).

If you think about it, veterinarians have been doing telemedicine for years. Every time you use the telephone to give advice, send emails, use facebook messenger, zoom meetings, online webinars, youtube videos, sending radiographs or history for consultation with specialists, you are using some form of telehealth communication. It is not that you need to practice medicine any different, you are just going to change the way you communicate with your clients. Now you can offer your clients two-way messaging with the use of pictures or videos, as well as, video consultations. By adding these options, you will be opening up avenues for your clients to get a hold of you for advice. This brings the client back to the hospital for information versus finding it on a google search! Also, you are beefing up you customer service. You can tailor your communication to each client by asking them “how would you like to be contacted?” Giving them options will help your daily workflow and improve customer service, customer compliance, and speed of connection.

Once you have decided on adding new ways of communication, you need to train your staff and clients on how that workflow will carried out. First, make sure you are giving your clients an option. Don’t cut them off from the doctor cold turkey! There will always be some cases and situations where communication with the doctor is necessary and not charged. However, for most of the triaging phone calls, you now have a way to be compensated for your general advice. At Monticello Animal Hospital in Shawnee, KS, the staff will ask their clients when they call in with a question or concern if they would like to have the technician call them back for free, or if they want to talk with the doctor directly, they can download their telemedicine app and send their questions directly to Dr. Wallis. Explain why the options are being offered, this makes the client less hesitant about the change. Letting clients know that the doctor can respond to the text message far quicker than a phone call, and the conversation and information will be documented and protected through the app helps the client understand. What happens if you have already given a client your personal cell number? If they contact you personally, first time let them know that this means of communication is not protected and difficult to place into the pet’s medical record. Second time they contact you, simply do not respond. If they get angry, explain that you are trying to protect their pets information and keep a complete record of the medical history which can only be done through encrypted and protected means of technology, such as the platform your business is now using.

The last and most difficult step will be making your doctors follow the new rules. It can be done, but don’t get frustrated if it takes some time to do. Change is hard for anybody, especially veterinarians. Veterinarians love to help others and inadvertently give a lot of services, products, and advice away for free. However, if you have a system in place where you are giving clients the option to speak directly to the doctor or for free to the technician, it should take off without any setbacks. Use your technicians and their knowledge to help triage your patient’s problems. If you need help with setting up a new flow of communication with your clients, don’t hesitate to email me at cristawallis@att.net!

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