Take Charge of Your Templates

Tap into your practice information management system’s full potential by using customized templates.

Streamline Workflow, Ensure Protocols, and Touch Clients’ Hearts

by Constance Hardesty

“Our charting goal is to maximize your
efficiency and get staff home on time.”

—STACI WELSH, INSTINCT

Whether you’re collecting new client’s information, entering notes during a routine appointment, prescribing, generating estimates, making referrals, or even recording a surgical procedure, you’re tapping and typing in one of your practice information management software’s (PIMS) many forms. Those forms are the user-friendly face of the system’s behind-the-scenes workhorse: templates.

“Well-defined, easy-to-follow templates ensure that your standards are followed to the letter,” said Peter Terhune, manager of strategic content at IDEXX Laboratories. “Simply put, they make the easy way the right way.”

Tyler Undenberg, DVM, DACVD, of Northwest Veterinary Dermatology Services in Vancouver, British Columbia, finds that using templates “saves us time, allows for more thorough documentation, and allows us to focus on clients and patients instead of paperwork.” Undenberg uses Cornerstone, but the benefits apply broadly.

Typically, PIMS producers rely on expert practitioners to help develop templates. Veterinary software company Instinct, for example, relies on experienced practitioners to “pinpoint major stress points” and eliminate repetition to create “thoughtful templates,” says Staci Welsh, CVPM, CVT, LVT, director of sales and marketing at Instinct. “We take great pride in creating software that increases efficiency for the staff,” she added. “Our charting goal is to maximize your efficiency and get staff home on time.”

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Turn Templates into Meaningful Touchpoints

Templates enforce standardization and consistency. That’s good for
branding, where repetition creates recognition, familiarity, comfort, and trust. But let’s face it, the default templates in PIMS are necessarily generic. Sure, you can drop in your logo, but is that enough? Can a template express your practice’s mission and personality? Can you make your brand shine through in the invoices, reminders, home-care instructions, and other documents that your PIMS produces all day, every day?

“Absolutely,” said Robert Sanchez, founder and CEO of Digital Empathy.

To get started, you’ll need four bedrock ingredients that should appear in every message (digital or paper) that you produce. Start with a high-quality logo that is emblematic of your business philosophy. Add a slogan or tagline, something thatdistills your practice’s mission in a few words, like “Every pet like our own.” Round it off with a one-liner that “distills what makes your practice unique, special, differentiated, and meaningful to the people and pets that you serve,” Sanchez said. 

And don’t worry if your one-liner runs to two or three sentences; aim for 24 to 36 words. The point is to get your story across succinctly but fully.

The fourth ingredient is the overall design of templates and finished documents. “Your forms should be beautiful and modern,” Sanchez noted. “You want them to be a great representation of your practice and a meaningful touchpoint with clients.”

Look on Canva or other websites for  inspiration. When you find a beautiful form, analyze it to understand the principles that make it aesthetically pleasing, and bring those principles into your templates.

“Spend the time or money up front to design a beautiful template,” Sanchez advised. Here, doing it yourself may be a false economy. Like all professionals, graphic designers have specialized knowledge. They study both design principles and user behavior, so they know how to make the template and the finished document pleasant to see and use.

A good graphic designer may charge $100 or $200 for a template. The investment is well worth it, according to Sanchez, because “people read a great deal into appearances.”

“Based on the small experiences we have with you, we create  expectations of what’s to come. This is why Apple invests so much in packaging,” noted Sanchez. “They know we as customers are going to use our first impression, however small, to make assumptions about the  company, to fill in what we don’t yet  know.”

Finally, to connect meaningfully with clients,  incorporate an elusive ingredient: empathy. How that gets expressed depends on each document’s purpose.

“Whenever we are looking at a question or problem that needs to be solved, we look at its different layers. There’s the logical layer and then there’s the emotional layer. You always want to be thinking about the emotional layer. So. if you’re creating a new patient form, find ways to speak to what a great decision the client made in bringing their pet to you,” Sanchez said. For aeuthanasia consent, speak sensitively to the emotions your clients are experiencing, and reassure them with messages that they’re caring for the
pet in the best possible way.

Whatever the form, strive to connect with clients beyond the functionalrelationship. “Make them feel good about their choice in entrusting you with their pet. Finding ways to build that trust—that is the bedrock of anyrelationship,” Sanchez said. Ultimately,“in terms of the finished product, youwant to make it a pleasant experience
that is sensitive to the emotionalexperience the pet owner is having in that moment.”

Modifying the default templates or creating new ones is standard procedure when you’re adopting a new PIMS, and that task never really stops. Some practices, like Art City Veterinary Clinic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, take customization to the max. Art City’s four veterinarians wanted different templates. Working in NaVetor, each veterinarian created their own set of templates.

Another multidoctor practice created hundreds of medical notes. That allowed each veterinarian to drop a prewritten medical note into the patient’s medical record and then modify the note as appropriate for the patient. “The practice found that using medical notes in this way saved time and added continuity to medical care,” said Lisa Jones, software product manager for IntraVet.

At the other end of the spectrum are the practices that are satisfied with their PIMS’s default templates, making only necessary adjustments. That means linking every product or service to a specific charge that will autopopulate the invoice to guard against missed charges.

Most practices could squeeze more efficiency out of their PIMS by making the best use of templates. But with hundreds of customization options, where to begin? We asked several software producers how to maximize use of templates. The features listed here apply to many brands; check with your system administrator to learn what your PIMS allows.

Auto-populate: You’re already using this for things like including the practice logo and contact info on all documents and to import client and patient information into various forms. To take autopopulate to the next level, open a frequently used template and look at the fields that are blank. What taps and keystrokes could you avoid if the template simply pulled information from elsewhere in the system to fill in the blanks for you? Would it be helpful if your staff to-do list autopopulated daily, weekly, quarterly, or annual tasks? Each time period can be created as a separate picklist, and the appropriate picklists can be linked to the template.

Short text: Substitute a combination of letters for an often-used word or phrase. Choose a combination that is unique and easily remembered, like “2x” for “twice.” When keying in text, the software replaces the short text with the longer. This is similar to Microsoft Word’s “Auto-correct/ Replace text as you type” feature. Preset text blocks: Similar to short text, these can be used for longer blocks of type.

Picklists: Create a list of related items and insert the picklist in the relevant template. The list works like a drop-down menu. By including all of the options, picklists guard against omissions (think: task lists). They limit and standardize responses to questions, so that “Is Fluffy an indoor cat?” can only be answered yes or no, not usually. And they help to eliminate typos and other errors that show up in free-text (empty fields where the user inputs text).

Task templates: Use picklists to create standing to-do lists for staff members; alter them as needed. This is a great use of picklists.

Digital signatures: These will make life easier by eliminating unnecessary paper copies.

Visit or appointment templates: You probably created these when you adopted your current PIMS, or you might have adopted the default templates. Or perhaps you imported templates you created years ago. Is it time to refresh? Pick a template and compare it with your current protocols. Ask staff whether the template’s organization and outputs make sense. Create an outline of everything related to that type of visit, like a wellness visit or dental prophylaxis. Then update the template and, finally, if your PIMS allows it, attach the template to the appointment type. Test it for a few weeks, and then gather staff feedback and make tweaks. These templates save time and ensure consistent adherence to your protocols.

Link relevant information to each template. Be sure to link client and patient information not only to medical records, notes, and forms but also to client education handouts, discharge instructions, and the like. If you haven’t already done so, consider personalizing client communications by adding fields to display the name of the pet and client. If you link the document to the patient information record or medical record, those fields will automatically populate.

It goes without saying, of course, that all products and services should be linked to a charge so when they are entered in medical records, treatment forms, and the like, they autopopulate the invoice.

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Bundle and link: Create a group of products and services related to a specific type of appointment with each item linked to its fee. This reinforces your practice’s protocols and protects against missed charges. Start with bundles for common services like spay/neuter, dental prophylaxis, ear infection, or wellness exam.

Views: To accommodate multitasking, pin forms or documents to the screen while you are working in the main application. Likewise, when you build a template, use the preview screen to see the effect of your inputs in real time.

Auto-print: If a client likes paper, enable auto-print at checkout. This works well for client education materials, discharge instructions, or invoices linked to the medical record. To go paperless, find out whether your software allows you to auto-email materials.

New employee training: Templates standardize workflow and enforce consistency. That eliminates a huge stressor for new employees. It also helps new staff adopt the practice’s protocols and unspoken habits, providing consistency while new hires are trained.

This is also an area where you can get creative. Complete the medical record by enabling staff to add photos or videos, personalized text, and more. Share useful information among the SOAP notes, treatment sheet, prescription history, and even client education materials.

Most importantly, make your templates a collaborative process. Start small, invite staff input, and build/refine your templates systematically. “Templates are a great way to save time in a veterinary practice,” said Mel Heinz, software product manager at Patterson Veterinary. “They are basically designed to streamline and simplify repetitive tasks, so it pays to explore and utilize all the template features in your software.”

Constance Hardesty, MSc, is an award-winning writer and editor.

Photo credits: anyaberkut/collection via Getty Images; Photographer/collection via Getty Images; LumiNola/collection via Getty Images

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