VHMA creates toolkit to address workforce challenges

Organizational Diagnosis and Design Toolkit also meant to improve services for clients and health care outcomes for pets

Like most veterinary practices, the Animal Hospital of Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, kept seeing the same kind of problems pop up year after year–staffing, client complaints, and inefficient workday flows.

The hospital found help with the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s (VHMA) Organizational Diagnosis and Design (OrgDD) Toolkit. Introduced May 23, it provides a systematic approach to identifying the root cause of an organization’s issues and can be used to address micro or macro issues.

VHMA training
The Animal Hospital of Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, was part of the pilot program that tested out the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s (VHMA) Organizational Diagnosis and Design (OrgDD) Toolkit. “As part of our project, we determined that our client care and communication needed attention," said Debbie Hill, the hospital’s administrator. (Photos courtesy of Animal Hospital of Pensacola)

The toolkit offers resources for veterinary professionals to re-examine their practice management and operational models by determining the best way to offer and optimize their services.

The Animal Hospital of Pensacola was part of the pilot program that tested out the toolkit. Training was created by one of the original OrgDD team members and held offsite in three-hour sessions for all of reception and veterinary technician teams. They then brainstormed what was important to them and discussed how to make it happen.

Debbie Hill, the hospital’s administrator, said, “Forcing ourselves through a structured system to diagnose the underlying issue and then rerunning the cycle backwards for developing solutions was a huge improvement to our historical Band-Aid approaches.”

The OrgDD process is not limited to addressing workforce issues. Practice teams can use this systems-based approach to improve efficiency, client services, and profitability, too.

The toolkit is available to download on the VHMA website, along with relevant case studies, worksheets, and an infographic. The free toolkit is available for practices to use for everything from creating a business strategy to addressing team member absenteeism.

Christine Shupe, executive director of VHMA, said “What is most significant about the toolkit is that it empowers practices to do something they typically don’t do: address their workforce issues more strategically and holistically by looking at why people are leaving and how to change the situation.”

In 2021, the VHMA launched an initiative to help members address the significant workforce issues they face. This began with the VHMA Critical Issues Summit on Workforce in December 2021, a two-day gathering of nearly 60 veterinarians, technicians, managers, consultants, and industry leaders. The focus of the summit was to identify how veterinary practices can retain a skilled workforce. From that meeting came the toolkit.

Scott Zimmerman, hospital administrator at Dearborn Animal Hospital in Decatur, Georgia, and vice president of VHMA, said his practice used this process to get buy-in from team members on areas that we could be more efficient in the use of their time.

“Utilizing our staff members in meaningful tasks helps our doctors be productive and our team feel that they have an important role to place in our success,” he said.

Zimmerman explained that change is hard and needed, and the toolbox helped his team shape change into an understandable format.

“The toolkit allowed us to do deep dives into areas that we truly felt we could make a positive change for the hospital,” Zimmerman said.

For his team, that meant making better use of team members in the afternoon by staggering their closing protocols, therefore allowing staff members to respond to client requests and fill prescriptions throughout the day rather than working additional hours after closing.

To keep up with the state of the workforce, today’s veterinary professionals juggle to boost their practices while prioritizing evolving employee and customer demands. The toolkit encourages professionals to embrace and adopt new ways of thinking about their practices, teams, and clients.

Hill said the most useful concept in the toolkit was the suggestion to keep asking questions until things improve, and then evaluate at the end of the process.

“We tend to find a ‘new best answer’ and try to apply it to all our issues,” she said. “This can keep us from objectively seeing the best results versus just having a little progress.”

“As the president of VHMA, I am excited that we are introducing such a proactive resource at such a crucial time within our industry,” said Jessica Speas, president of VHMA. “As a practice manager, I am excited to roll up my sleeves with my team and dig into the OrgDD Toolkit.”

A version of this story appears in the August 2023 print issue of JAVMA.