DVM Newsmakers: Entering a new era

Animal Medical Cetner's new CEO positions famed hospital for growth, education and veterinary research
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Aug 01, 2010

New York, N.Y. — Flanked by a cadre of veterinarians, support staff, a Maltese, German Shepherd and others, the new CEO of the Animal Medical Center (AMC) gathered her new team to ring the bell.

A fitting toast to animal health, 100 years of serving veterinary medicine, and Kathryn Coyne's initiation in leading the famed veterinary hospital that has been credited with educating nearly half of all the veterinary specialists in this country.

The ceremony happened on NASDAQ, the Wall Street exchange for many animal-health heavyweights like IDEXX and VCA. The market went up that day, and Coyne hopes it was symbolic of a new era for the famed hospital that faces an increasingly competitive landscape in one of the busiest metropolitan areas of the United States. What's the saying? If you can make it in Manhattan, you can make it anywhere.

Bringing some 27 years of experience in human-health care administration, Coyne believes the two disciplines have many similarities. She should know; she ran the 250-bed Saint Barnabas Healthcare System in New Jersey, which has been described as a mid-sized, acute-care teaching hospital. Her goal? Build on AMC's mission to promote the health and well-being of companion animals through advanced treatment, research and education.

In an exclusive interview with DVM Newsmagazine, Coyne talked about the path between human and veterinary medicine, as well as her goals for the organization. (To view the full video interview, click here.)

"We have done our first 100 years at the Animal Medical Center, and I want to be able to make sure that we are here for the next 100 years," Coyne says. "Certainly, the quality of care is important. Client satisfaction is key. But we have to control resource consumption. To be sustainable, there has to be good management of resources," she adds.

While AMC has become renowned for training specialists, it's an expensive proposition, Coyne says.

In fact, the hospital spends about $1.5 million on its residents and interns, without government subsidies afforded to many human hospitals. However, the case load and talent amassed at AMC does offer the non-profit entry into another important area of education - research. "It will give us opportunities for immense research. The end result, of course, is the compassionate, quality care of companion pets."

When it comes to comparing the two medical disciplines, there are notable differences too, Coyne says. For the most part, veterinary medicine is still mostly subsidized by discretionary income from pet owners. In fact, it's believed only 1 percent of the U.S. pet-owning population purchases pet health insurance. While the numbers are climbing, income solely based on discretionary income is another serious variable in veterinary medicine, she says.

"The third-party payment system in human medicine, I think, ends up having both a negative and positive effect on the quality of care. Managed care has been a difficult process to work with... In the hospital world, you can't even get admitted without being pre-approved to come in."

The flip side, Coyne says, is that subsidizing care in animal health is based on discretionary income, which is prone to the ups and downs of a recession.

"The economy has hurt everybody. I think for a long time the fees for veterinary medicine have been very low. So, they have had to rise up to meet the costs of providing that care. When you look at a place like the Animal Medical Center, we have a 64-slice CT, I didn't even have that in my human hospital. We have an MRI. We have a linear accelerator. All of these things are extremely expensive, and you've got to put a business model together that will allow you to pay for the equipment, provide the service and still have enough to continue on with your business."

But Coyne believes the recessionary economy had some impact on this hospital. "I think if we take a look at it retrospectively that we will see that the economy had some effect on people making decisions to have their pet treated. I can't say we have had a rash of people coming in saying they can't afford to take care of their pets or to please put it down. Because we are a non-profit, we have many programs to help assist and plan for those patients who can't afford certain care and certain treatments."

Quality costs money, Coyne adds. "As you know, no money, no mission."

And that's the challenge for veterinary medicine. AMC is no exception.

"It is a different market. There is a lot more competition than ever before. I think a lot of the challenges for the veterinary community in general will be things we are going to have to look at. We have Internet diagnosis and treatment now. What is that going to mean to specialty hospitals and to practices? We have corporate buying of practices and facilities. What will that do to the clinical care going forward? I don't think we have a handle on that yet."

Long-term success, however, will be defined by compassion and quality care, Coyne says. And one of her greatest challenges, she says, "will be to sit in my office and not go down stairs to see who has come in, what surgery has been scheduled and what's happening up in rehab."