Practice Management News and Views from around the World – May 2008

UK flag

Who are the managers? what are they for and what are they worth?

A free on-line webinar for everyone with an interest in the business management of veterinary practices

Tuesday May 13th 2008 – 1pm – 1300 BST

  • If you employ a practice manager or administrator
  • If you are employed as a practice manager or administrator
  • If you are a consultant, advisor, supplier, clinician or anyone with an interest in the business of veterinary practice

Then join us online during a free Webinar on Tuesday, May 13th at 1pm

red line

UK flag

New ‘data format’ will revolutionise how practices work

A data transfer system created by a SPVS-led consortium to bring ‘practice management systems into the 21st century’ was unveiled at the recent BSAVA Conference.Vet-XML allows veterinary information to be transmitted between practices and lab companies using a common data format via VetEnvoy’s powerful communications hub. It has been developed over many years by a Consortium of leading PMS vendors, laboratory companies and wholesalers and led by SPVS
and it promises to completely restructure the way practices and the veterinary industry works.

Practice management systems will now be able to deal more effectively with the demand for instant communication and the more efficient management of clinical records. The format will for the first time allow different IT systems within the profession to electronically communicate with each other using the same language. For practices, this means the automation of the filing of case referrals, lab reports and insurance claims, and a huge reduction in staff time devoted to manual filing and retrieval of records. It will also mean that lab reports can be sent electronically between a laboratory company system and a practice management system (PMS).

Vet-XML Consortium Leader and SPVS IT Officer Nick Lloyd, explained: “The most important benefit to practices is the much more efficient and speedy handling and submission of insurance claims. While systems are now overwhelmingly relying on paper formats, claims can now be submitted at the touch of a button. This clearly has enormous benefits to practices, which include freeing up staff time to concentrate on other vital tasks.

“While many PMS systems can store and retrieve financial records, the efficient electronic management of clinical records, has so far been neglected. An electronic system focusing on records will give practices the ability to access clinical notes from any location with Internet access.”

He added: “It should also provide a more straightforward and efficient way of searching and retrieving records that match specific criteria and allow vets to create customisable examination sheets attaching digital images such as radiographs, ultrasound and photographs.

“As practices will now have access to a complete and easy to use information database, reports on areas like productivity, services and their corresponding income, patient diagnosis and client demographics can be easily produced.

“Vet-XML is a very exciting development for the profession and I anticipate that it will be warmly welcomed by practitioners.”
You can click here to visit the Vet-XML website

red line
USA flag

Why Bears Make Bad Customers

by Caroline Jordan

Every business owner should have a picture of his or her ideal customer.

When I picture my ideal customer, I see a business owner struggling to find time for all that needs to be done, someone passionate about what they do, someone striving to find answers to make their business run better. By picturing this person in my mind, I am able to develop products and services that I know will benefit that customer. But what happens when a not-so-ideal customer enters the mix?

Recently, I moved from a suburban location to a very woodsy location. One of my first orders of business was to set up my bird feeders. In my mind, I saw my ideal customers as cheerful, little songbirds. I also knew that I would get my share of chipmunks, squirrels, and field mice. I knew the products I was providing (sunflower seeds and suet) would satisfy all those customers.

And then, along came the bear.

And with the bear, came trouble. Feeders emptied, poles knocked askew, and a suet feeder missing in action.

Now, I have nothing against bears on a personal level. They’re really delightful creatures. They are also, however, dangerous and can cause a great deal of property damage. In short, the bear is NOT my ideal customer. So, what do you do when you attract a customer who is too much trouble, too much work, and costs you far too much time and expense? For the health of your business and for your own sanity, you need to discourage those customers from using your services or buying your products.

That’s a tough thing for most business owners to do. Especially when money is tight and you feel like you have to accept every sale. But the cost of trying to satisfy a customer who isn’t the right fit will, in the long and short run, do more harm than good.

Suppose I decided to take on my bear as a customer. I would spend so much time, money and energy trying to feed my bear that my other customers–the ones I wanted to attract in the first place–would get no product or service. The bear would take up all of my resources and cause much damage along the way. He would become that exhausting, irritating, no fun to work with customer that we all end up with at one point or another.

Bears are easy customers to discourage. The birdfeeders come inside in the evening now, removing the primary attraction. If he still comes sniffing around, we’ll progress to loud noises and other tactics that bears find obnoxious.

So, if you have a customer, like my bear, who is taking up all your resources without contributing to the success of your business, find ways to discourage him. Raise your prices, refer him to a competitor, or set clearer boundaries on your time. Doing so will allow you to take care of the customers who are the best fit for your business.

You can click here to visit Caroline Jordans’ website

red line

UK flag

New service to help veterinary practices promote their services

MC Communications has announced that it has joined forces with a leading provider of email marketing and online surveys to help veterinary practices promote their services more effectively. The growing PR and copywriting consultancy, which specialises in veterinary PR and marketing and whose clients include The Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS), is now able to provide easy-to-use email marketing and online survey products with its business partner Constant Contact. Principal consultant Marie Carter explained: “Our customers are always looking for effective ways to grow their businesses and we found that Constant Contact’s email marketing would be the best solution for practices looking to promote their services by communicating directly with existing and lapsed clients.

Since starting up in August 2006, MC Communications, which is based in Durham City, has worked with over thirty businesses and organizations in a variety of sectors ranging from the telecoms to travel industries. Principal consultant Marie Carter decided to specialise in veterinary PR and marketing after realising that practitioners were finding that they needed to promote their practices more effectively in an increasingly competitive market but needed a cost-effective solution.

You can click here to visit the MC Communications website

red line
UK flag

To Be the Best: Invest! Case Studies in Practice Management Automation


by Phil Scanlon

While veterinary practices differ from country to country, one fact is universal for vets across the globe: investing in practice management automation costs more than money. Equally important is the time and effort you spend learning about system capabilities, determining how to best automate clinic processes — then populating the system so that you can get the most out of automation. Adequate time and resource investment can reap significant rewards. Conversely, there are significant pitfalls if your investment isn’t up to par. A look at two vet clinics in two different countries underscores the risks and rewards of an investment-driven approach to practice management.

Australia: To Be the Best – It Does Cost More

Failure to invest properly in your practice management system can cost you more than the price of technology. Hugh White, of Armidale Veterinary Clinic, a mixed animal practice with two locations in New South Wales, Australia, puts it bluntly: “Vet clinics are notorious for undercharging, and most missed fees are due to human error,” says White. “With advancements in practice management technology today, there’s no reason to incur the sometimes significant loss associated with missed charges.”

In an industry that typically shies away from the topic of fees, White and his partner Nigel Scott, take a refreshingly direct approach. “We are known as the most expensive practice in the area, and our clients are comfortable with that fact,” says Hugh White, founder and owner of Armidale Veterinary Hospital. “Why? Because we believe that to provide optimal diagnostics and treatment options, and to best serve clients, it does cost more. In addition to a skilled staff, you need to maintain adequate staffing levels. And you need state of the art automation on virtually every level.

Our clients understand that reality and appreciate the effort we make to go the extra mile on their behalf.”

White and Scott operate their practice based on three straight-forward principles: strive to provide the best care and client service available, understand the overall cost of running a quality-focused business, then track and bill accurately for all services provided.

White believes in another simple maxim: When it comes to automation, you get out of a system what you put into it.

Armidale’s approach to stock control is a good example. “In any practice, stock control is central both to the level of service you can provide, and to your financial bottom line,” said White. “The simple fact is most clinics don’t use automated stock control to its full potential, so they don’t reap the associated rewards.” At Armidale, inventory management is a fully-automated process.

Each product is entered into their system, or as Practice Manager Cathy Colton puts it “everything from needles and syringes to every drop of liquid” resides in the database. From that point on, automation takes over:

  • With a single key click once each week, the system alerts Colton to what needs to be ordered. She may spot check items manually to verify the inventory levels, and can easily modify, delete, or add in special orders to the system.
  • Since their practice management system provides interfaces to other applications important to the practice, Colton then electronically orders replacement inventory through Provet’s eOrder software. Provet automatically fills the order, then transmits a goods receipt and invoice back to the
    Armidale system.
  • Inventory levels are automatically adjusted and any price changes are also updated.

Since Armidale has all stock items resident in the system, they can also flag items for seasonal ordering. At the right time of year, the system automatically increases the stock levels of these seasonal items, such as flea products, large animal reproductive hormones etc.

Front desk “over the counter” sales are also automated. When a product is sold, Armidale uses a bar scanner to capture the item and associated price in the system.

The result of this approach? “I can’t make mistakes anymore, because I’m not manually entering five pages of invoices into the system,” says Colton. This degree of automation ensures accuracy, reduces missed charges and frees staff to spend time doing what they do best — treating animals and serving clients.

“We have other clinics calling here all the time to find out about our stock control approach,” Colton adds. “Large, busy clinics will tend to argue that they’re too busy to enter stock into the system to begin with. But if you won’t make time to record that an item exists, how can you expect to control your stock?”

Hand in Hand: Quality Service and Revenue Gain

Armidale also fully utilizes their system’s ability track activity from the time a pet arrives at the clinic, through consultation, treatment and checkout. “Our system ‘knows” our specific quality of care standards, and automatically prompts us when a pet is due for worming, the next vaccination, or a reorder on pet food or supplies,” said White. Armidale automatically generates advance mail reminders, or any staff member can alert a client of needed care items at the time of appointment. As a result, clients and animals are better served, while sales of clinic products and services
increase. (see graph)

rxworks image - May 2008

The system also allows Armidale to store standard approaches to specific procedures. For example, when dealing with a cesarean procedure in cows, the system displays how time should be charged and what drugs should be used — thereby allowing all vets to hit the same quality of healthcare parameters while ensuring no charges are missed.

Finally, a high degree of personalized client communication is enabled through automation. Staff is automatically prompted to call clients whose pets have been discharged after surgery, to ensure all is well. Long-standing clients can be easily identified by the system for a special Christmas mailing or other acknowledgement. “Essentially, the system allows us not only to promote ourselves better but to recognize and reward our clients more quickly and fully”, said Colton.

Armidale keeps a close eye on how they’re doing by using the system’s extensive reporting capabilities. With the click of a button each Monday morning, Cathy Colton generates a financial at-a-glance that shows Hugh White how his practice performed the previous week, including all services provided and associated vet fees, over the counter sales, and client payment status — including those who haven’t paid and why.

USA – Automating from the Ground Up

Around the globe from Armidale, Dr. Robert Magnus, DVM and Managing Partner at Wisconsin Equine Clinic and Hospital, in the colourfully-named locale of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, took an even more radical view of time and resource investment in automation. Since opening its doors in 1992, the practice has expanded to a facility covering over 35,000 square feet across 26 acres, and is among an elite group of equine clinics offering full-service surgical, medical, reproductive, and rehabilitative services.

After a three-year search to locate the right practice management replacement system, Magnus chose not to transfer any data from the old to the new system. Instead, he implemented his new system in stages, populating it from the ground up with current patient and client information. “Our belief was that transitioning old data would litter our new system with “junk” – outdated client and patient information that must be updated to have any value. Instead, we
populated our new system from the ground up. We hired temporary staff to do data entry. We also sent mailings to and called our clients to get the latest contact and other demographic information.

A tedious process to be sure, but one that yielded significant benefit.” Fresh data means greater effectiveness and lowered costs. For example, using their old system for mailings, hundreds of letters were returned each time due to incorrect information — with the new system data, only a handful came back — and those few rejects were due to human error (incorrect data entry).

Magnus also set his sights on target marketing. “We set up a variety of fields to look at different factors in our population — for example, how many hunter/jumpers versus western performance versus backyard horses do we care for? Is the patient a referral? If so, by whom? Where is the client located? Do they have email? Are they interested in marketing notices, a newsletter, or our wellness program from us?” Once the data was gathered, staff looked at the trends to determine those target markets served the most and where the practice could most effectively apply its marketing dollars.

The clinic’s billing department also saw early-stage benefit from the new system. Invoices could be generated more quickly and easily. Slow-paying clients were flagged, and custom dunning mailings created based on different account criteria.

“Bottom line, a long-term, phased system implementation may not be necessary for small clinics, but for a large clinic like ours, with dozens of staff and multiple departments, this ground-up, step-by-step approach proved to be well worth the effort,” said Magnus.

Remember, while vet medicine is a service oriented business, it is a business, after all and attention, must be paid to investment — from a time, resource and financial perspective. Besides, your ability to decrease missed charges, increase profits and operate more efficiently in turn
affects your ability to invest in new equipment and medical processes that can benefit your clientele.

It’s quite simple, really. To be the best — invest!

You can click here to visit the RxWorks website

red line

UK flag

Vets invited to test mind over matter in the Peak District

The Palace Hotel Buxton in Derbyshire’s stunning Peak District is the location for a long weekend of CPD combined with relaxation and fun as a variety of high profile speakers come together to discuss the inner workings of the minds – of both practitioners and patients.

The SPVS Mind over Matter event, which is taking place from Thursday July 17-20, will see Clare Rushbridge, RCVS and European Specialist in Veterinary Neurology present on ‘First Line Neurology for Practitioners.’ In addition, David Bartram of the Initiative on Mental Health and
Wellbeing in Practice’ will talk about how to recognise possible anxiety and depression in ourselves and in our colleagues and suggest effective coping strategies.

Course organiser and SPVS Council Member John Duffy will deliver a presentation on ‘Logical Thought’, using interactive examples to reflect on the way we arrive (think we arrive at) both everyday and life-changing decisions.

John explained: “SPVS is delighted to host presentations by such excellent speakers. “David Bartram is the author of some excellent recent articles published in the In Practice magazine, which have re-opened the debate on stress and its effects within the profession.”

He added: “The lecture blocks are at the beginning and end of the day to allow delegates to enjoy the spectacular countryside. I expect that most will take to the hills, mountain biking or walking
but if there is sufficient interest it may be possible to organise groups for rock climbing, abseiling or caving.

“Delegates can enjoy the award-winning Go Ape Experience in Buxton, which offers a high-wire adrenalin rush. For those wishing to be inspired without forcing on a wet suit, there is the two
million year old Poole’s Cavern, described as the ‘first wonder of the Peak’ since the 1600s. If all else fails, there is the relaxed ambience of the hotel pool, bar and gardens.”

For more information, and to book your place on Mind over Matter which runs from the evening of Thursday July 17 to the lunchtime of July 20 click here
to send an e.mail to the SPVS office.