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By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

is your practice struggling with doctor shortages?

Using technicians as physician assistants is a solution. Your practice could shift up to 20% of appointments from veterinarians to technicians. Better yet, you can charge for technician appointments.

which appointments to reallocate to technicians

Consult your state’s guidelines on technician and veterinary assistant duties and whether veterinary supervision must be direct or indirect (https://www.avma.org/advocacy/state-and-local-advocacy/veterinary-state-board-websites).  

After reviewing your state’s policies, identify types of appointment that technicians and assistants may see. Create scheduling guidelines with appointment lengths and reasons for visit for client service representatives to follow. Consider a standard of care that patients must have a veterinary-client-patient relationship and a physical exam from a veterinarian within 12 months to be eligible for technician appointments.[1]

Shift four appointment types from veterinarians to technicians and assistants:

1. Preventive appointments. Let’s say a veterinarian examined an adult dog today and gave the first Leptospirosis vaccination. When the dog needs a Leptospirosis booster in a few weeks, schedule an appointment with a technician rather than a doctor. Forward book the technician appointment today to ensure timely immunization. Schedule recurring technician appointments for patients on weight-management programs so technicians and assistants may assess patients’ progress and provide nutrition counseling to clients.

2. Diagnostic appointments. Technicians and assistants can collect samples and perform lab tests for drug monitoring, early detection screens, preanesthetic testing, blood pressure checks, glucose curves, and more.

3. Treatment appointments. Technicians and assistants can change bandages, administer subcutaneous fluids, perform laser therapy, trim nails, clean ears, and more.

4. Instructional appointments. Teach clients about home care such as giving insulin injections and subcutaneous fluids. Have clients record videos on their smartphones of patient care that they will need to do at home.

Let’s say the client schedules a technician appointment to get her dog’s ears cleaned. Ask the client to record a video on his smartphone as you clean the right ear and verbalize instructions. After you finish cleaning the right ear, have the client clean the left ear while you coach him. Clients will better understand homecare instructions after watching, doing, and recording videos for future reference.

use distinct terms

To help clients understand the difference between duties performed by a veterinarian and technician, choose different service names. Use “exam” when a veterinarian performs a physical exam. Used in the human nursing profession, the term “health assessment” is when a technician or assistant evaluates patient health.[2] Download my history questions for checkups at https://csvets.com/historyquestions/.

A health assessment performed by a technician or assistant includes three activities:

  1. Get patient’s vital signs (i.e., temperature, pulse, respiration, weight)
  2. Ask history questions
  3. Update medical record 

Veterinarians should define which patients will need health assessments during technician and assistant appointments. Here are services that may merit health assessments:

  • Change bandages
  • Clean ears
  • Express anal glands
  • Administer subcutaneous fluids
  • Provide laser therapy
  • Administer vaccines
  • Check weight and provide counseling
  • Remove sutures

A health assessment may not be medically necessary for certain services such as:

  • Trim nails
  • Collect urine or blood for lab tests
  • Place microchip

how to set health assessment fees

Clients will pay for services and health assessments performed by technicians and assistants. Let’s say a client books a technician appointment for a nail trim. Charge for the nail trim service but a health assessment is not medically necessary. Another client schedules a technician appointment for her dog’s bandage change. Charge fees for bandage change services and a health assessment, which is medically necessary.

When setting fees for health assessments that technicians and assistants will perform, consider two options:

Option 1: Percentage of doctor’s exam. Let’s say your veterinarian’s exam fee is $60. Charge half the doctor’s rate if a credentialed technician provides the health assessment or $30. If an assistant does it, charge a third of the doctor’s rate or $20. 

Option 2: Create a per-minute rate. Identify three figures:

  • Average hourly wage: Calculate the average hourly wage for your credential technicians and veterinary assistants. The 2022 average hourly pay for a technician was $19.60, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.[3] Veterinary assistants averaged $16.58 per hour.[4]
  • Benefits: Benefits are typically 32% of an employee’s wage.[5] Benefit expenses include all costs associated with health, dental, worker’s compensation, and other insurances; retirement benefits; the owner’s portion of employment taxes; uniform reimbursement; continuing education; discounts or allowances for veterinary services; and paid vacation, holidays, and personal days.
  • Staff costs as a percentage of revenue: Total staff expense with benefits in a financially healthy hospital is kept below 23% to 25% of revenue.[6] Support staff includes all non-veterinary employees, managers, and custodial personnel. About 16% to 19% of income is allocated to staff wages while 5% to 8% is for benefits. 

Here’s the per-minute formula: Take the average wage per hour with benefits ($19.60 technician hourly wage + 32% for benefits = $25.87 per hour) and divide by 23% staff costs as a percentage of revenue. A technician will need to generate income of $112.48 per hour to meet profit goals. Divide $112.48 income per hour by 60 minutes for a per-minute billable rate of $1.87 for technician time. Use a similar calculation to determine a per-minute rate for services that veterinary assistants will deliver.

Rather than the tedious task of setting a stopwatch every time a technician sees an appointment, set fees in blocks of 10, 20, 30, and 40 minutes with a minimum amount charged. For example, a 10-minute technician appointment is $18.70 plus fees for additional services delivered. If the task only takes 5 minutes, still charge the 10-minute technician fee because it’s the minimum amount and starting point for fees.

Here are examples of technician appointment fees based on blocks of time:

Length of technician appointment

Health assessment fee

10 minutes

$18.70

20 minutes

$37.40

30 minutes

$56.10

40 minutes

$74.80

communicate value to clients

If you don’t charge for technicians’ time now and will implement a health assessment fee, host a staff meeting to explain the “why” behind the fee to your team. Technicians and assistants will appreciate that you value their time and expertise and want to charge clients for services they deliver.

Write a script of what to tell clients. You want employees to answer clients’ questions confidently and consistently about the new fee.

Say this, “Our veterinarians have determined which patient treatments need health assessments from technicians and veterinary assistants. Our health assessment includes getting your pet’s vital signs of temperature, pulse, respiration, and weight, along with asking you history questions and updating your pet’s medical record with this information. For this nursing care, we charge a health assessment fee of $XX and fees for additional services provided during the technician appointment. For example, an appointment to change a pet’s bandage would include a health assessment to check that the wound is healing properly along with fees for the bandage change service. I am confident that you will find value in the nursing care that our technicians and assistants provide.”

Doctors need to transfer trust. When veterinarians perform exams and give immunizations, tell clients what to expect for the next booster vaccinations. Say, “<Pet name> will need a booster vaccine on <date>. You will schedule an appointment with my technician, who will conduct a health assessment, give the booster vaccine, answer your questions, and update your pet’s medical record. We take a team approach to preventive care. I value the contributions of our nursing team.”

Communicate value at the start of technician appointments. Set client expectations upfront. The technician or assistant will explain, “I’m <name>, the certified veterinary technician who will perform <pet name>’s health assessment and give the Leptospirosis booster vaccine. I will get <pet name>’s vital signs, including temperature, pulse, respiration, and weight. I will ask questions about your pet’s health and update <pet name>’s medical record with the vital signs and information we discuss. What questions may I answer before we get started?”

When your practice utilizes technicians like physician assistants, technicians will work at the top of their licenses, improving job satisfaction and employee retention. You will increase appointment availability for clients, which is advantageous with today’s overloaded schedules.

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About the Author: Best known as the “Queen of Scripts,” Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has taught communication and client service skills for more than two decades. As founder of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, she teaches practical skills through online courses, onsite coaching, and conferences. Wendy was a partner in a specialty and emergency practice. Visit CsvetsCourses.com and YouTube.com/csvets to learn more.

References:

1. The Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR). American Veterinary Medical Association. Available at: https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/veterinarian-client-patient-relationship-vcpr. Accessed Jan. 3, 2024.

2. Guide to Good Nursing Practice Health Assessment. Available at: https://www.nchk.org.hk/filemanager/en/pdf/health_assessment_e.pdf. Accessed Jan. 3, 2024.

3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2022. Veterinary Technologists and Technicians. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available at: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292056.htm. Accessed Jan. 3, 2024.

4. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available at: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319096.htm. Accessed Jan. 3, 2024.

5. Woodruff J. Benefits as a Percentage of Wages. Chron. Available at: https://smallbusiness.chron.com/benefits-percentage-wages-14587.html. Accessed Jan 3, 2024.

6. Tips to Help You Manage Veterinary Staffing. Simmons & Associates Inc. Available at: https://simmonsinc.com/can-you-manage-veterinary-practice-staff-expenses/#:~:text=The%20total%20support%20staff%20expense,23%2D25%25%20of%20revenues. Accessed Jan. 3, 2024.