DVM Newsmaker's Summit: A changing business model

Societal shifts to make lasting changes on the business of veterinary medicine
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Nov 01, 2006
By dvm360.com staff

Editor's Note: DVM Newsmagazine asked six thought-leaders at CVC East in Baltimore to talk about the most pressing issues facing the veterinary profession. This month, the panel takes on the changing business model. Dr. Jack O. Walther introduces the issue.

About the panelists:

Dr. Bonnie Beaver, Texas A&M University, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Gary I. Block, Ocean State Veterinary Specialists in East Greenwich, R.I.; former president of the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Joan Hendricks, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Lonnie King, director of strategic innovation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; former dean of Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. David Lane, practitioner and consultant in Cardondale, Ill.

Moderator Kerry M. Richard, attorney with Tobin, O'Connor, Ewing and Richard in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Jack O. Walther, practitioner in Lamoille, Nev., and former AVMA president.

Dr. Walther: The changes occurring in our business model for the most part are going faster than any of us realize. But what does the future hold? Is solo practice, please excuse the expression, a dead horse? Are the requirements of the practice, both as a professional and as a manager, too much for a single practitioner? What is the proper size for a multi-doctor practice? What practice model will allow us to have time off and take emergency calls? Is it going to be four, five or six? Right now, four to five doctors seem to be the number, but I think that, too, is up for grabs. What place does our profession have for corporate practices? They're growing; they're profitable. They find, as we are finding, a shortage of veterinarians to run them. How will the supply of veterinarians impact them?

Will multiple practice organizations have a specialty practice and a centrally located emergency clinic?

One of the factors that will govern practice size, and also its economics, is the willingness of young veterinarians to become practice owners. I can tell you in the area where my practices were it is a huge problem. There are four or five really good practices right now, all owned by older veterinarians who would like to sell them. And there aren't buyers. The availability of veterinarians is one of the greatest challenges. I see the shortage, and I can see it getting worse since there isn't an adequate remedy at the moment.

About the reported decline in the number of hours worked per week; is this gender or generational? The latest AVMA/Pfizer study shows that the women veterinarians continue to work fewer hours, but so are some of the men — particularly younger graduates. The Brakke study of 1998 showed that veterinarians are poor business managers, and they outlined eight major business practices veterinarians should improve to ensure the economics of smaller practices. This spawned the formation of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI), which has done a yeoman's job of spreading the word using a methodology that was easy-to-read and a great help in veterinary practice. The latest AVMA/Pfizer study shows that veterinarians have adopted fewer good business practices now than in 1998. While income is up, it's mainly the result of an increase in veterinary fees. But our ability to practice good economical medicine still needs a lot of help, and I think how these practices look in the future will depend a great deal on our abilities as practice managers.

It will also be impacted by government regulations – state, local, federal, state veterinary boards – and all of the things that those of us who are practice owners have to deal with on a daily basis. Government regulations are becoming, in my opinion, more onerous, requiring more time. Again, I think it will have an effect on our ability to practice economic medicine.