A perennially recurring theme of the veterinary practice management circuit is that of doing more with what you have. For
the last decade, national demographic statistics indicate slow-growing (from approximately 2.8 percent per year from 1991
to 2002) population numbers of canine and feline patients. The equine population has fared better. Despite lacking data, the
American Association of Equine Practitioners speculates that equine ownership has risen since the bullish economy of the 1990s,
lending opportunity for equine practitioners to focus on better clients seeking higher levels of care and the ability to charge
suitable and rewarding fees. But even this practice arena faces challenges of revenue generation.
In general, American businesses increasingly recognize what veterinary practice administrators have known for years: It is
less expensive to keep existing customers happy than to attract new ones. Additionally, through client relationship management
(CRM), we believe veterinary practices can do more with the existing and available client base. After all, you already possess
a valuable data system of names, addresses and phone numbers. Wouldn't money be best spent on fertilizing freshly planted
seeds already in the ground and providing a bit of irrigation, rather than looking for new land to purchase and plow?
Planting the seed
The profession of veterinary medicine traces its roots to agriculture and animal husbandry. Let's learn from our veterinary
ancestors and consider all the options for increasing outputs, be that bushels per acre, gallons per head or average sales
per client. The successful farmer is expert in competently attending multiple responsibilities that stretch far beyond the
initial planting. He masters multiple disciplines that lead to profitable returns over many years, evening out periods when
times are bad. Does your practice have the systems in place that prevent financial disaster, even in the face of economic
Rule 1: Know what you have, so you can stay the course to your destination. Establishing and maintaining solid methods of
measuring client base, patient numbers, average transaction charges, reminder system compliance and a plethora of other practice
stats are crucial. A good dairy farmer keeps excellent records of production, days to freshening and efficiency of feed intake
to know which cows to nurture and which to cull. The crop farmer takes soil samples to know what combination of fertilizers
and soil-enriching techniques are required to maximize crop yield. As a practice manager striving to maximize client compliance,
maintain, protect and use the data your practice creates cumulatively over its history. Make good decisions based on facts,
Rule 2: Act on your assessments. Based on a reliable record-keeping system that allows you to spot trends proactively, look
for opportunities to do better and make timely adjustments. Within the existing client base, are you aware of percentages
of delinquent reminders and do you do something about it? Are addresses complete and telephone numbers correct, so that efficient
client recontact can be made, rather than simply waiting to see if the phone will ring? If the weather holds no rain, then
gas up the irrigation pump. If milk production is down, and cow water consumption is off, is there a problem at the watering
trough to be fixed? If client compliance is worse than it was last year, is there a controllable internal problem (like a
rude receptionist) that could be addressed and resolved?
Rule 3: Use test plots and try new blood lines. Take the risk of trying new things. Your perception of what clients want and
what you believe they want could be completely different. Past survey results indicate misperceptions haunt veterinary practices
just as they do many other aspects of life on earth. It is easy to get caught in old beliefs. Constantly revisit old tenets
and challenge yourself to assure you are not overlooking golden opportunities with your existing client base.
For example, consider survey results published by the joint effort of Pfizer Animal Health and the Iams Company as part of
the initiative for promoting senior care health month. Only 57 percent of veterinarians surveyed believed that clients would
comply with practice recommendations for multiple annual examinations of senior dogs. These beliefs were significantly out
of touch with pet owners' concerns which indicated that 75 percent believed that senior pets should be seen by their veterinarian
more than once a year. Do you suffer the same blind spots because of your own upbringing or because one or two clients apparently
turned down past care recommendations?
Rule 4: Nurture what you have. Constantly explore how existing bloodlines and land can be improved. Improved efficiency through
better equipment and staff training, timely attentiveness to callbacks, and practice systems that assure that the reminder
system is milked on time, are all examples of how client compliance can be improved through practice-controllable factors.
By following these four rules, you can exponentially increase current practice earnings. Your attentiveness to a variety of
practice tasks, chores and communications are required, but the improved output to be gained makes it worthwhile. Not only
is there the potential for increasing current revenue streams, the long-term value of the practice entity appreciates. A compounding
effect takes place over each month, and each year. Incremental improvement leads to richer and more fertile soil. New stock
and tweaking the breeding program lead to better and more productive bloodlines. Attention to equipment and staff expertise
leads to greater efficiency in managing patients and clients. A well-maintained, newer model combine and experienced operator
lead to fewer beans left in the field.