A surprising number of vets offer the option of veterinary house calls to their clients. This number is only expected to grow, as the world grows in appreciation for modern conveniences. But being a traveling practitioner is not without its challenges. Logistically speaking, keeping on schedule when delivering pet care outside the confines of the clinic can be quite difficult. Thankfully, with a little planning and the right strategy in place, you can effectively manage your time, keeping clients happy and avoiding burnout, regardless of where you happen to be practicing. Here are a few tips to get you started.
What is a House Call Vet?
A house call vet is a veterinarian who makes house calls to their clients instead of having the patient come into the hospital or clinic for medical care. This can be for a variety of reasons, but the most common is that the animal(s) in question are unable to make it into the clinic or simply are more comfortable at home. This may be due to age, illness, injury or the animal’s disposition.
Wrangling an unwilling cat into a carrier and making a trip to the vet can be stressful, and sometimes even dangerous. If a cat is sick or injured, the last thing pet owners want to do is put them through that kind of trauma. A house call vet can come to the cat, and provide the care the kitty needs in the comfort of their own home. This can also avoid feline encounters with canines.
The same goes for dogs who may be too large or too anxious to make it into the clinic for care. It can be difficult to find someone who can help an owner transport dogs of a certain size, and the dog can be even more stressed out by the experience. A house call vet eliminates that worry.
Types of House Call Veterinary Appointments
House calls generally involve veterinary services and medical care, not simply medical advice. There are generally two types of visits that many veterinarians will make:
1. Routine wellness checks and vaccinations
2. Diagnostic and treatment exams for sick or injured animals
The first type of appointment is relatively straightforward. These are typically scheduled in advance and follow a fairly predictable routine. So, if you know you have a certain number of wellness checks to perform each day, you can plan your route accordingly and make sure you allow enough time for each appointment.
The second type of appointment is a bit more challenging. These are usually not scheduled far in advance and often involve animals that are in distress and in need of medical care. As such, they can be quite unpredictable, which makes effective time management all the more important.
At-home euthanasia services may also be available in some cases, but this will vary from practice to practice. As a house call veterinarian, it is important to be clear with clients about what types of services you are able and willing to provide in the home before scheduling an appointment. This will help to avoid any misunderstandings or disappointment down the road.
Veterinarians usually require pets to come into the hospital for more complex procedures, such as dental cleanings or other surgeries. House call vets may not have the necessary equipment to perform these procedures and may also require additional veterinary support staff for assistance.
Making the Most of Your Time
No matter what type of appointment you're dealing with, there are a few things you can do to make the most of your time and optimize your route.
Automate as much as possible
Use technology to your advantage! We live in the digital age where technology has become an integral part of our lives. Take advantage of the tools available to you that can make your job and your life tremendously easier.
Several apps and software programs are available to help you plan and manage your calendar. This can be particularly helpful if you have a lot of appointments in different parts of town. Examples include Google Maps, mobile credit card processing software, and even GPS tracking devices that can be placed in your vehicle. And don't forget a hotspot from your mobile data provider for ready access to the Internet.
When you can automate things like scheduling, reminders, prescription refills, and other common daily workflows, everyone on your team will be freed up to apply their human skills where they’re most needed – caring for animals and providing personalized service to clients.
Consult with your current practice management software provider to learn what software integrations are readily available. If you’re not already using cloud-based software, consider making the switch. Not only will this give you and your team the ability to access information from anywhere, but it will also ensure that your data is always backed up and secure.
House Call Veterinary Scheduling
Be strategic about where and when your services are scheduled. If you are booking more than one off-site appointment in a week, try to plan them in a logical way to avoid extra driving. For instance, schedule visits based on their geographic locations. If possible, choose a specific area to cover for each day of the week. That way you’re not running from one end of town to the other and wasting valuable time in the process.
Plan for more than just the service scheduled. Many busy vets forget this important detail, focusing only on the time they anticipate needing for the actual session and neglecting the minutes it takes to prep and regroup in between appointments. As a result, they end up feeling rushed and overwhelmed, and the calendar starts getting backed up. Whether you manage your own schedule or someone else on your team handles it, make sure to build a small buffer around each service. It’ll keep everything running much more smoothly.
Help your clients help you
Keep your clients in the loop regarding your estimated arrival. When pet owners are fully prepared for their scheduled visit, the service will flow much more efficiently. Don’t just assume your clients will be ready for you. Be proactive. For example, when a client calls to book a calendar slot, provide instructions or send a list of what they should do in advance of the appointment. Not every client will follow through, but even if a few do, it’ll make your life much easier.
Schedule activities for when you are most productive. Be honest with yourself. Do you tend to focus better when in the office in the morning? If so, then try to schedule your most intensive work during the morning and other tasks, such as your house call services, for later in the day. This will allow you to optimize the use of your time so you are most productive and profitable.
Establish a routine
Time management experts recommend creating a consistent routine that you can become accustomed to. For instance, it can be helpful to try and schedule all basic house calls on specific days. Likewise, setting a specified day for surgeries and other regular activities can help you keep a handle on your calendar and know what to expect when each week begins. Obviously, there will be days when you will need to deviate from this routine, but at least you’ll have a foundation to work with.
Before you head out for the day, make sure you have everything you need in your vehicle so that you're not making unnecessary trips back to the office. Take care to include your medical supplies, forms, and any other paperwork that may be required for the services scheduled for the day as well as emergency service supplies. And don't forget food and water for you will be super convenient to have on hand, as well as a supply of healthy treats for the patients. An extra dog leash or collar can be handy as well. Having what you need at your fingertips will save you the effort and frustration later on.
Delegate whatever work you can to other team members. This can be remarkably difficult for some because, as veterinarians, we tend to want to handle everything on our own. Can you manage your entire practice while juggling appointments inside and outside the clinic? Sure. Should you? Not unless you’d like to end up crashing and burning. You’ve worked hard to hire an awesome team. Now let them put their skills to work and trust that they’ll get the job done so that you can make the best use of your day.
The Pros and Cons of Being a House Call Vet
There are both advantages and disadvantages to being a house call vet. These should be considered before deciding to become one.
You can build stronger relationships with clients since you may have more time to talk with them during each visit.
Clients appreciate the convenience of not having to travel to the vet’s office or wrestle their pet into a carrier or vehicle.
House call vets often get to know an entire family, including the pets, which can make for a more personal relationship.
Pet parents may request and expect you to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.
You may have to drive long distances in some cases, which may reduce availability for seeing other patients at the practice.
You may have to deal with difficult clients or pets.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does a house-call vet charge for services?
House call visits typically command a higher rate since travel time and expenses must be factored in. In addition, many charge a per-visit fee plus the usual charges for services, supplies, vaccinations, etc. Responsible pet owners are usually willing to pay extra for the added convenience of the home visit.
What is a traveling veterinarian?
A traveling veterinarian is a vet who makes house calls instead of having clients bring their pets into a brick-and-mortar clinic or hospital. House call vets typically travel to their client's homes, but they may also make visits to farms, workplaces, schools, or other locations.
Is a house-call vet and a mobile vet the same thing?
Both are terms for veterinarians who see animals outside of a hospital or clinic setting, however, a mobile veterinarian typically operates out of their vehicle 100% of the time. A house-call vet, on the other hand, has a physical location and occasionally travels to see patients.
House call vets are an important part of the veterinary community. They provide a valuable service to responsible pet owners who are unable to bring their pets into the clinic or hospital for care, and they play a vital role in animal welfare. If you’re thinking about becoming a house call vet, or if you’re already one and looking for ways to improve your efficiency, we hope that this article has been helpful. Remember, the key to success is good time management. By following the tips we’ve outlined here, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master of your schedule.
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