Practice Management News and Views from around the World – May 2010

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Pet Insurance in the UK

Report from Mintel International Jan 2010

This report examines recent developments in the pet insurance market, includes analysis of market size and share, and also looks at distribution trends within the sector.

Mintel’s exclusive consumer research examines trends in pet ownership, the penetration of pet insurance among pet owners, the channels used to buy pet insurance and attitudes towards the features and benefits of pet insurance.

Almost 40% of adults live in a household along with at least one pet. While almost 30% currently have a pet insurance policy, more than 70% do not.

Specialist pet insurance providers dominate the market, with 45% of the market. Retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s account for a further quarter of the market. Price comparison websites are not particularly well developed in the pet insurance sector: only 17% of pet insurance policyholders claim to have used a price comparison site to find the best deal.

Just three in ten pet insurance policyholders have made a claim on their pet insurance policy.

The two most importance factors in persuading existing pet insurance policyholders to take out cover are, firstly, concern about paying veterinary costs, followed by ensuring lifetime cover. Cost is the key consideration putting off non-policy holders. The opportunity to buy a low cost policy would influence positively potential take-up of cover among non-holders.

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More on Pet Insurance

by Caroline Johnson

I noted with interest the seminar held on 8th April at BSAVA Congress between the Association of British Insurers and some leading people from the veterinary profession. It seems there is “trouble at mill”, with insurers expressing considerable concern about the future sustainability of pet insurance in the UK; concern which is consistent with the responses to an opinion poll on this subject at

So far 17% of respondents say they are confident about the future sustainability of insurance, whilst nearly three times as many (46%) are concerned about it. One third of respondents say that their business would be slightly to moderately affected if the pet insurance market crashed, whilst 54% say their business would be seriously affected (that makes a total of 87% predicting an adverse affect, were the worst to happen).

And vet practices are right to be concerned. The ABI Pet Insurance Committee has been established to encourage interaction with key industry bodies such as the RCVS and BSAVA. During the seminar they talked openly about the challenges ahead in a market where policy numbers are stabilising whilst numbers and cost of claims costs are rising considerably… and they see the need to work more closely and in collaboration with the profession in addressing these challenges and finding solutions. But hold on a minute…isn’t that already happening elsewhere?

In the commercial exhibition at BSAVA, whilst this seminar was taking place, were first time exhibitors Total Vet Insurance Services (TVIS). Concerned too about sustainability, this new entrant have come into the insurance market with a range of bespoke practice policies which take into account the needs of the insurer, vet practice and clients; their aim to collaborate, making insurance more affordable and therefore more sustainable. They tell me that they were rushed off their feet with enquiries —

Keith Watson, Account Executive for TVIS says “we had not one negative comment…with everyone expressing similar concerns, such as the escalating costs of referring insured clients”.

The market is changing and change can be exciting! I wait to see how things will develop but cannot help but think that the whole market coming closer together, collaborating over the issues that affect everyone dependant on pet insurance, cannot be anything but a very good thing.

You can click here to visit Caroline Johnson’s website

You can click here to visit the Total Vet Insurance website

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When Recruiting Gets Easier, Selection Gets Tougher

by Dave Nicol

With the economy on the skids and unemployment figures on the rise it’s clear that a lot of companies are shedding staff to protect their businesses. But if you are hiring then right now is one of the best times in recent years to do it.

A report by HR technology and research company reveals that the number of applicants per job across all sectors has nearly doubled. Which is great news as a recruiter because it potentially gives you more choice and hence chance of landing a superstar for your practice.

However there is a downside, because as the number of applicants rise, so too does the difficulty in choosing the right person. For example, if you are the manager of a small practice, the admin (phone calls, replies, letters and feedback) alone might well swamp you and lead you to make a poor decision.

So it’s important to take a logical approach to the problem (And it doesn’t hurt to let technology do as much of the work as possible. Here’s a little checklist that might make your life easier:

Ensure that you have a prewritten and saved standard acknowledgment that you can copy and paste into an email. I recommend always include a thank you (as courtesy), a note of the job they applied for, a date when they can expect to hear back from you if they have been successfully shortlisted. And I’d always make sure to say that if they have not heard back from you by this date then their application has not been successful. This saves time going back and writing a second email to someone who is not going to add any value to your business in the near future.

Rather than send out a letter, or have to tell all the candidates where the practice is for interview, why not get a page up on your website that has interview day instructions including location (it’s so easy to embed a Google map) and giving them an idea of what’s in store for the day. You can then send a link to the page in an email when you give them the good news that they’ve made the short list – quick and easy.

Take time to read the CVs. Personally I don’t bin CVs for layout reasons (I’ve met too many excellent vets who can’t write a CV to save their life to fall into that trap). But the devil is in the detail, so as tiring as it can seem, make sure you scrutinise the CVs properly. Giving a poor candidate an interview because you got sloppy/tired when reading the CVs is a huge waste of time. A recent example is a nurse who applied for a small animal position, her CV was very well presented, but if we hadn’t read to the end, we wouldn’t have seen that her real desire in life was to be in the fashion industry. Conversely, if you find a ‘show stopper’ early on in a CV then why waste time reading more?

If in doubt, call the applicant for a brief chat to clarify any doubts you have. Are they warm, enthusiastic, polite when you call? Did they answer your question satisfactorily? If not then for me it’s decision made. Move on.

Aim for a shortlist of three or four solid candidates. Any more and you’ll be wasting a lot of time on interviews. If you have a shortlist of ten then you either haven’t defined the role well enough or you’re being soft! Remember you only have room for one and you don’t have all year to work it out.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. You don’t want to have to go back to the drawing board on this one and waste even more time. Make sure you do the following:

  • Call to confirm the day before the interview to avoid frustrating no shows
  • Make sure your reception team know that the interviews are happening; nothing makes you look less organised than no one knowing a candidate is arriving.
  • Ensure you have a quiet, neat workspace set aside for the interview and CVs printed out before hand.
  • If you are going to be doing competency testing (we’ll cover this another day) then make sure you have all your materials ready (including a vet to ask clinical questions if this is part of your process).
  • If you are nervous then type out your questions beforehand and have a running order written down so you don’t forget to ask important questions.
  • Anticipate the questions they might ask, like salary, hours and holidays. This saves you having to chase around for the information later.

Take notes and debrief — crucial that this is done on the same day as the interview itself. If you are interviewing with one or more colleagues then compare your notes while it is still fresh in your mind.

Ready to make an offer? If you are then go for it. If not and you need more information then remember the shoe is on your foot for now. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to come in for a trial day.

Dave’s Tuppence-worth

Getting the right bums on the right seats in your vet practice is one of the most important tasks of a manger. Current market conditions mean that things are very much in the favour of the practice, but be careful not to be rushed into a bad decision because you were swamped with job applicants. If you need help, then ask for help, it should be just as important to the business owner that you succeed.

If it isn’t, I’m happy to tell them about the 40k per year difference in turnover it can make if you hire the right person. Or the destructive effects of the wrong person entering the practice.

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Essentials of Veterinary Practice

A new book by Philippe Moreau and Richard C Nap

Essentials of Veterinary Practice is written by two respected veterinarians, both of whom are recognised worldwide as authorities on the science of practice management. Not only are they experienced clinicians, they have also considerable expertise in what is required to run a successful veterinary business. This book is a compilation of their combined experience and concentrates on introducing major business concepts encountered in companion animal practice. It also offers new ideas from France and The Netherlands
(the authors’ homelands), in addition to a wealth of international experience.

In the forward, John M Bower MBE, BVSc, says that this book will be of immense use and interest to all practitioners, irrespective of how long they have been in practice. The authors believe the main beneficiaries will not be decided by their length of service, but will be those who are willing to embrace the fact that practices — and their clients — continually evolve and, by following the book’s advice and concepts, will find their practices become more successful and more enjoyable for the whole team.

Essentials of Veterinary Practice does not cover any clinical aspects of veterinary work; as the subtitle specifies it is “an introduction to the science of practice management”. Clients expect their vets to be good clinicians; so what makes a real difference to them — and the success of the practice — is its organisation.

How you deal with clients, staff and the commercial aspects are all comprehensively covered within the text, providing the building blocks on which to grow the practice. Indeed, as the authors so succinctly remind us, clients “do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.

The book covers such diverse topics as communication with clients and with each other; how to run clinics; business systems; finance; merchandising; time management; how to obtain and retain client loyalty; and much, much more besides. Essentials of Veterinary Practice is an invaluable management tool and should be in the library of any practice aspiring to expand and improve.

Philippe Moreau DVM, MS, DipECVIM-CA, DipECVN graduated in 1978 from the University of Li├Ęge in Belgium. In 1985, Philippe founded the marketing and communications company Medi-Productions. Since 1999, he has devoted most of his time to the company, providing consultancy services to the animal health industry, lecturing in practice management, and auditing and helping veterinarians with their vet clinic management.

Richard C Nap DVM, PhD, DipECVS, DipECVCN is a veterinarian from The Netherlands. He graduated from Utrecht University in 1979 and in 1993 attained his PhD from the same institution. Since 2005, Richard has been involved in supporting private practitioners, veterinary organisations and the animal health industry as a private consultant (

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Communicating with your clients

by Steve Kornfeld and Peter Weinstein

It’s estimated it takes between 7-12 exposures to the same message to get people to act on it. If all you do is send a vaccination reminder from time to time and then, if they don’t respond, you forget your clients, you are making a grave mistake. You have to build a chain of messages which will build up on each other and be interesting for your clients to read. This system is called, “multiple messages-one medium”.

Another way to get multiple exposures is through combinations of media. If at the same time the client is receiving mail from you he also gets an email from you, gets a couple of postcards and a phone call to boot, pretty soon he feels he trusts you and that he needs to bring his pet in. There’s instant recognition of your name and business and again there will be results developed disproportionate to the amount of exposure.

What you want to achieve is an image in your clients’ minds whenever they see mail from you or hear about you from other people. This image better be one that connotes trust and ownership of your reliability. Here are a few more simple ways to attach a positive image in your clients’ minds:

  • A uniform practice image – colors, your name, a logo carried over to your business locations, your vehicles, your uniforms, your signage and of course all
    your advertising.
  • A slogan that makes sense that actually represents your practice and is easy to remember.
  • Repetitive contact with fewer clients rather than just one contact with a large number of clients.
  • Sponsorship of civic and animal events and/or causes.

A plan using these other forms of reinforcement advertising helps a good offer perform as well as you’d like.

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Vet students enter the Dragon’s Den

The entrepreneurship of students at the country’s newest vet school have been put to the test — inside the Dragon’s Den. Scrutiny of their business acumen was part of the innovative teaching programme at The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.


Ten teams of students had to pitch their ideas on how to rescue an imaginary veterinary practice from failure. Their strategy, financial forecasts and funding proposals were put to the ‘dragon’s’ in the hope of finding backers for their business proposals.

Business teaching is delivered within the Personal and Professional Skills module which aims to equip vet students to become effective members of a practice team. The Nottingham vet school believes it is important that its students understand how their actions, as qualified veterinary surgeons, will affect the profitability of the practice in which they are employed. The teaching, over two semesters, incorporates aspects of strategy, finance, marketing, management and entrepreneurship. Their business training culminated in the one day business game mentored by experienced practitioners from the Society of Practicing Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and industry leaders.
The students had to analyse the current performance of the fictitious practice, consider their strategy, provide financial forecasts and put together a proposal for funding the newly acquired business. They had to decide whether to continue the business as a mixed practice or to sell part of it to focus on small animal work.

Their proposals were presented to an intimidating panel of potential investors.

The business plan had to withstand 10 minutes of searching questions. These included questions about delivering the new strategy to staff, devising a stock management system, creating a “30 second sell” and dealing with telephone calls from clients.

Asking the difficult questions in the den were dragons with experience in the veterinary profession, management, marketing and financial consultancy — Chris Jagger, Director of Estates at The University of Nottingham; Arwel Griffiths, a business and marketing consultant with over 27 years’ experience in industry; Peter Wells, who retired from his position of Global Head of Research and Development for Novartis Animal Health Inc. in 2008; Phil Adcock, an Independent Financial Adviser; and Karen Braithwaite, Director of Academic Support and Administration at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Richard Holborrow, from the SPVS and councilor and team mentor said: “I was seriously impressed. This module from Nottingham will make these students better employees and for some of them it will have sparked an interest in practice ownership that may have a profound influence on their careers.”

Another SPVS mentor, Ewan McNeill, from Castle Veterinary Centre in Nottingham said: “It really was a huge success in every way. I didn’t realise I would get such a buzz from it, and everyone — students, staff and mentors alike — were on a real adrenaline high all day. I had a fantastic team and I got a lot out of it myself”

Dragon, and management consultant, Arwel Griffiths, said: “I thought the teams were very good indeed. Most had understood the key issues and had clearly put a great deal of thought into their approach and delivered their points with confidence.

The very best of the teams managed to hit the right balance between having a clear and attractive proposition for financial investors and outlining the clear steps they would take in the business to turn the performance around and create value. All seemed to have a very significantly greater grasp of business issues than I had at their age!”
Kevin Spencerlayh, a year four student, said: “This experience puts us ahead of most vets out there. The business game was really good as well as it brought together everything we had learnt in the module this year. The Dragon’s Den was really good fun. The mentors were really helpful and having them there was a real boost.”

Toby Trimble, year four student and member of the wining student team “Vet Equity” said: “The business game gave me a valuable insight into the running of a veterinary practice and the input from our SPVS member was extremely useful.” Jamie Meagor, year four student, said: “The exercise really put into play everything that we learnt throughout the business skill module and it was a great opportunity to practice my public speaking and presentation skills.”

Naomi Ragsdell, year four student, said: “Our mentor was a brilliant help and he gave us lots of insights into the realities of running a practice and how much things actually cost. The whole day plus what we have learnt in the module has really enlightened me on the business of veterinary practices.”

Liz Mossop, Module Convenor and Lecturer, said: “This was a busy yet fun day which really helped the students to understand how veterinary practices function as businesses. We hope this will help our students as they graduate and enter the veterinary industry. Skills such as these should help them to stand out as truly all round competent veterinary surgeons. We would like to thank our sponsors Onswitch and John Sheridan’s Veterinary Business Briefing, and the SPVS mentors, who were all practitioners donating their time to help the students.”

You can click here to visit the Nottingham Vet School website

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How to Make Decisions: How to Do a Cost Benefit Analysis In 3 Easy Steps

by Lyndsay Swinton

Money makes the world go around, and decision making is no exception. Cost Benefit Analysis does exactly what it says; you analyse costs and benefits and make a decision accordingly. Learn how to do a cost benefit analysis in these 3 easy steps.

A word of warning; cost benefit analysis is not an exact science. There is an element of guesswork and subjectivity which can never be erased. It is your job to use your skills and experience to make your best decision with the information you have at the time. Consider the alternatives – running a project with no idea of the financial impact or worse still, suffering from “analysis paralysis” and never getting anything off the ground due to fear of “what if’s” or getting it wrong.

Cost Benefit Analysis Step 1 – Cash is King

The first step in a cost benefit analysis is to establish a common measurement unit – usually money. Sounds simple, but remember the time value of money – a dollar in the hand today is worth much more than a dollar in the hand in a year’s time. For most businesses, cash-flow is crucial, so if income is slow to appear, can you manage the outgoings in the meantime? Also, some costs or benefits are one-off or may be ongoing.

Cost Benefit Analysis Step 2 – Let’s Talk Money

The next step is to quantify the costs of doing the project and the resultant benefits. Costs often include; new equipment, specialist help, staffing, training, maintenance, lost business during implementation etc.

Benefits can be harder to quantify. There may be obvious benefits such as direct cost savings, reduction in rework, fewer customer returns etc where you can calculate a solid financial benefit. However there may be some intangibles like increased customer loyalty or employee satisfaction, which are tricky, if not impossible, to put a price against.

Cost Benefit Analysis Step 3 – It’s Payback Time!

The final stage is to calculate the “pay-back” time for the project. If the total costs are $40,000 and the ongoing benefits are $60,000 per year, the pay-back period could be calculated as $40,000/$60,000 = 8 months. If your business is going down fast, 8 months may be too long, but at least you’ve got some idea of what’s involved. Ultimately, the final decision is yours.

A cost benefit analysis can be a critical part of decision making, and not just for accountants. Careful consideration of the financial implications of your decision BEFORE you make it, can mean the difference between rags and riches.

You can click here to visit Lyndsay Swintons website

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