How to choose a practice consultant

Apr 01, 2004
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Before you can choose a consultant you need to know what you want them to do for your practice.

Consultants have strengths and weaknesses, or things they particularly enjoy or are interested in doing for you. You want someone who will be a good fit. So the first step is to write down your goals. Do you want to improve medical care and record keeping? Financial health? Need a buyout or buy-in plan? Staff issues to contend with?

If you want a complete makeover or have a long laundry list of changes you want to make, you need a generalist. If you want help with a specific issue, such as a financial review or to help hire and train a new manager, you need someone who specializes in that area. An MBA and degree in psychology get you different skills - what do you need?

Next, pull out your old issues of Veterinary Economics, DVM Newsmagazine, AAHA's Trends or other journals that deal with management topics regularly. Whose articles and ideas do you agree with? What is your philosophy for your practice and who seems to have the same ideals? Often those articles are written by practice consultants that you might want to contact, but you should also cut out those that don't seem right for what you want to do. You can use the articles to help explain your goals to whatever consultant you choose.

Pull out your conference notes, too. If you've attended management meetings, which speakers did you like? Are they available for a consult?

Next, get a list of consultants from the AVPMCA (The Association of Veterinary Practice Managers, Consultants and Advisors) or AAHA. They can provide a brief biography for each consultant on file. You will often get a pretty good idea what a consultant or consulting firm is all about from their brochures, too, so send away for as many as you like and sort through them. What appeals to you? Pick up the phone and start talking to people. Do you know any colleagues who have used a consultant? Find out who they chose, how happy they are and why they picked that person. As with a job reference, a key question is always, "Would you hire them again?"

When you've narrowed your search, call those consultants and talk with them about what they provide, their fees and their philosophies.

You can also meet and greet many of these professionals at meetings. They are almost always happy to talk with you. You want to choose someone you will feel comfortable with. Don't be intimidated or embarrassed when you tell them about your hospital or your goals. They want to help you to improve your practice, that's what they do. They aren't there to judge you.

Keep in mind that not every consultant writes for the journals and not all will be names you recognize. Big name consultants tend to cost more than people you've not heard of. That doesn't always mean they will do a better job for you.

Don't contract with someone you aren't able to talk to easily. You will need to divulge a lot of personal information to this person, such as your salary, your reason for owning a practice and your hopes for your future. These are sensitive topics and a lot of emotional baggage sometimes accompanies a consult.

Lastly, don't even start this process if you aren't committed to making changes. Implementing new procedures and processes is hard work and often stressful. It requires you to step outside your comfort zone and do things in ways that may seem difficult or uncomfortable. The money you spend on it is not money you should feel was wasted because you didn't follow through or chickened out of the implementation process.

Be passionate, but also be a realist about your goals and your capability to soar higher on new wings.