The more things change in veterinary practice, the more things change

Advice on adjusting to the new normal when it comes to veterinary practice.
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May 01, 2012

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Look at the current economic, professional, ecological and geopolitical issues—take your pick. None are good right now, and the only real issues are will they get better or worse? And when?

The optimist would say great things are just around the corner. The pessimist is convinced things can only get worse. How much better? How much worse? I don't think we have a clue. One thing is for sure: The environment we have lived in and worked in—and in most cases prospered in—will never, never be the same. So how can we prepare for the unknown—the new normal?

Navigating the unknown

Years ago, I learned that we need to get ready for the twists and turns that you can't predict but you know are going to come. I was advised to "expect the best but prepare for the worst." So how do we play both ends against the middle?

Let's be realistic. Yesterday is gone. Our industry has transformed forever. We were once our clients' only source for good information, products and medical services. In just a few years that has changed. As the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study has pointed out, the Internet, specialization and decreasing use and reliance on trips to the veterinary hospital have had a huge impact on veterinarian-client relationships.

Technology has changed our world whether we like it or not. Spending habits have altered. Much of veterinary spending is discretionary, and in difficult economies, discretion is the better part of valor. Elective procedures are delayed, and needed procedures may require more creative financing or, in some cases, may not be doable, necessitating less-than-ideal care or even euthanasia.

Even as business people, we need to look hard at the costs of improvements and expansion. Most would agree that a difficult economy is a great time to invest but not without real risk analysis. This is not a time to make hasty decisions. So don't hold back, but proceed with caution.

The future has rarely been more uncertain, so cash reserves, credit preservation and diversified investing have never been more important.

The long view

Maybe things will get better—and maybe it will be sooner than later. Just don't count on it. If there is one take-home message it is that what we do today in our personal and professional lives has never had greater importance. So take care of today—prepare for tomorrow. And enjoy the ride.

Dr. Paul is a veterinary consultant and a founding member and former executive director/CEO of the Companion Animal Parasite Council. He has served as president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.