Thinking creatively about emergency coverage

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Equine practice, perhaps more than any other area of veterinary medicine, often comes with clients’ expectation of 24/7 coverage. For veterinarians, many of whom work in one- or two-doctor practices, this can put a strain on work-life balance and lead to burnout.

“Perhaps you feel pulled in multiple directions with your professional and personal life. Work-life balance is a personal interpretation for each of us, and perhaps elusive. But if we don’t try to balance the two, we can get burnt out quickly,” said Dr. Racquel M. Lindroth, who gave a talk on innovative approaches for providing emergency care coverage during the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Annual Convention Dec. 9, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Talk attendees
An attendee asks a question during Dr. Racquel M. Lindroth’s talk “Innovative approaches for providing emergency care coverage.” (Courtesy of AAEP)

Potential solutions are rotating emergency schedules within multidoctor practices, collaborating among area colleagues in various practices, and hiring relief services. Dr. Lindroth focused mostly on the second option.

That’s because of her experience in creating a rotating emergency schedule with a handful of other equine practices in the area with which she had previous relationships. All four of the main contributing veterinarians wanted to provide emergency services but also have a family life.

Everyone agreed to provide emergency coverage for routine clients of any of the practices within a 30-mile area. If the client was new to the area or a practice, it was up to the clinician on call whether to go out on the call.

Any case seen over the weekend was turned back into the care of the primary service provider during regular business hours. Written medical records were transferred to the regular doctor within a week. What happened if a client later called the emergency clinician for a routine service?

“We agreed to just support each veterinarian and maybe let them do some services if they specialize or have an interest in a certain area,” Dr. Lindroth said.

Each business took care of its own insurance, workers’ compensation, and the like. The doctors scheduled weekend emergency coverage three months in advance and shared a pager. Each business set its own rates and invoiced as an individual business, while each client paid at the time of service. And each practice decided how it wanted to market the arrangement.

Dr. Lindroth said it took time for the arrangement to become established and fine-tuned. In addition, maintaining flexibility was vital, as the needs and concerns of participating veterinarians evolved. That said, after about a year, the co-op turned out to be a great success.

About 10 percent of Dr. Lindroth’s annual revenue came from emergency call volume when she was on her own; however, she saw more cases in one weekend a month than when she had a few each weekend on her own, so revenues for her practice increased slightly as a result.

Further, “Customers were attracted to the idea of colleagues collaborating. They found it an attractive model, and we all still took really good care of clients,” she said. In fact, the co-op turned out to be an attractive feature to the veterinarian who eventually bought her practice.

Building a stronger connection with clients

An initiative created by the American Association of Equine Practitioners continues to help equine veterinarians better serve their clients.

The program AAEP Touch: Tools to Connect Your Clients and Their Horses just finished its first year. The website has seen about 10,000 hits. The program was introduced to AAEP members to help them provide better care, better deliver services clients say are important, and improve their relationships with clients.

“Your customers think you’re great, but it’s not just about what we know, but how we act. Do something to put a shine on your practice because tomorrow’s not promised,” said Dr. Monty McInturff, an AAEP board of directors member. “We want to think it’s our science and knowledge, but it’s the touchy-feely stuff that builds relationships that really retain and attract clients.”

Dr. McInturff said there’s more to come in the year ahead. This year, AAEP Touch will release “Getting to know the sport” videos about the various equestrian disciplines, a searchable database to find equine veterinarians who provide dental services, and dental examination guidelines. Touch Point, a monthly e-newsletter that distills what clients are reading in lay literature, has also started going out.