When old and new clash, change is the casualty

When old and new clash, change is the casualty

A new associate suggests some small upgrades for the good of the practice. Can he convince his bosses to go along with it?
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Oct 30, 2017

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The Harp brothers, Lee and Hank, had been practicing veterinary medicine together for 38 years. They had a successful small animal practice and devoted clients. They were “old-school vets” and proud of it. This didn't mean they practiced antiquated medicine—quite the opposite.

But they did give clients their home numbers for after-hours phone calls. They made house calls if necessary and ran a tab for older clients who wanted to pay as they were able. It’s true that this flew in the face of many “modern” veterinary practices, but it worked for the Harp brothers.

Eventually the brothers reluctantly accepted the fact that they weren't getting any younger and decided it was time to add an associate veterinarian. They ultimately decided on a young man with excellent clinical skills and a charisma that wowed clients. The young doctor embraced the personalized style of practice that had made the brothers beloved anachronisms in the veterinary community—but he also had some suggestions.

He scheduled a meeting with his two bosses to talk about client and creature comforts. A personalized approach to veterinary care was admirable but an antiquated physical plant was not, he said. The first hurdle was the waiting room. The clinic, which was in fact a remodeled Victorian home, had a reception area that hadn’t been updated in years. The young associate suggested brighter LED lighting, calming music, a coffeemaker, new seamless flooring and a bright contemporary restroom makeover.

The Harp brothers’ first response was, “What’s wrong with what we have now?”

This is exactly what the young doctor wanted to hear.

He responded that his update suggestions weren't simply for modernization but also to help pets, clients and ultimately the practice. He said calming background music comforted anxious clients and pets. In addition, it created a pleasant “white noise” buffer to keep waiting clients from overhearing the receptionist’s phone conversations. A coffeemaker was almost a waiting room expectation, but more importantly it emitted a pleasant, familiar scent that counteracted unpleasant clinic odors.

Seamless flooring prevented crevices that harbored debris and allowed quicker and more efficient daily cleaning. Brighter LED lighting had been shown to contribute to the positive feeling of a hygienic medical facility. Finally, more clients than the brothers imagined visited the restroom. And they often judged overall clinic hygiene and cleanliness based on that experience. The young associate also recommended that professional promotional signage gracefully adorn the walls. A poster of a cute dog that recommended once-a-month heartworm preventive was both appropriate and informational.

The older doctors looked at one another quizzically. Was their waiting area really that bad? They had no complaints. They thought music, coffee and lighting were all gimmicks. A clean, welcoming waiting room atmosphere was what they offered their clients. They said that, sure, accessorized waiting rooms were appearing in more and more in veterinary practices—but were they really improvements? They told their young associate the seamless floor covering was a good suggestion and would be implemented. But as for the rest, they didn’t want to teach an old dog new tricks when the old tricks had served them so well.

The associate was disappointed but had great respect for the two senior doctors. Clients were still coming in the door—and many of them may very well have been threatened by changes to the veterinary environment they’d known for years. There was something to be said for staying in your comfort zone. Personally, he thought this hesitation would ultimately lead to practice stagnation. But at least they'd get a new floor!

Who do you agree with: the Doctors Harp or the young associate? We would like to know. Send an email to [email protected]

Rosenberg’s response

There is room for variation in veterinary facilities’ styles, but there is never room for poor hygiene or stagnant medical care. That said, I have to side with the young associate. The veterinary profession has to look at the changing needs and expectations of its clientele. A serene, clean waiting area makes a pet owner more receptive to hearing veterinary directives. We can be sure that our patients present the same problems and charms as the years pass, but as for their owners, that's a different story. The times they are a-changin’ and so must we.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. In his private time, he enjoys playing basketball and swing dancing with his wife. Although many of his scenarios in “The Dilemma” are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.