Practice Management News and Views from around the World – September 2011

red line

USA flag

The Current Economy and How Veterinary Practice Owners are Adapting

From an article by Tom A McFerson, CPA ABV and Tina Oh CPA ABV published in the VetPartners / AAHA Economic Bulletin

The recent struggles that our economy has faced have forced many industries to change the way they operate. The veterinary industry is no exception.

Veterinary practice owners have been forced to adapt to the new economic realities that surround them. These new realities can be broken into four areas.

  • Consumer spending has clearly been hurt over the last few years. People are scared about their jobs, their homes, and their investments. They’re hunkering down and less willing to part with the money they have. Veterinary practices are feeling this, and they have come to realize that they’re now competing for a shrinking amount of disposable consumer income.
  • Competition amongst neighboring veterinarians has grown fiercer. Referrals are shrinking, and competitive pricing is growing.
  • Practice owners have been forced to deal with shifting demographics. Newer areas that were once expanding and thriving have been decimated by unemployment and
    foreclosures. This growth has reversed, and veterinarians in these areas have seen their client lists reduced by a third.
  • Finally, cheap, cost-friendly house-call practices and mobile specialists have begun to flood the market. Depending on where you sit, this has provided an opportunity or a threat.

Exam Fees Dropping

One common theme throughout the veterinary industry is how fewer and fewer pet owners are coming through the doors.

As consumer spending drops, and as the competition amongst veterinarians rises, battles are being fought over these “missing” clients. One tool being used, rightly or wrongly, to attract these absent clients is the lowering of exam fees.

It is often the first or second question asked by a new client — how much for an initial exam? The exam fee has also traditionally been the barometer used to judge a specific veterinary practice. A higher exam fee usually meant higher prices, but it also implicitly meant better medicine and better customer service. A lower exam fee usually meant lower overall prices, and, implicitly, pretty good medicine and decent customer service.

Now, to a certain extent, that has all changed. In the past, it was not unusual to see exam fees that differed by thirty or more dollars. Now, it is not unusual to see these same fees all within a five dollar spread. Neighborhood practices are finding a price equilibrium.

Notice how the two gas stations on the same corner always seem to have the same $2.99 price for a gallon of gas? Veterinary practices are moving in that direction.


Building on the above line of thinking, another way that practice owners are increasing foot traffic is by offering much more in the way of coupons and discounts. In the past, coupons and discounts were for first time clients, or clients who had made a referral. Now, practices are offering discounts to current clients that come in multiple times a year. This accomplishes two things: one, it gets clients in the door, thereby allowing the owner a chance to generate additional revenue from the client; two, it gives the practice owner a chance to strengthen the bond with this pet owner, which will hopefully result in future referrals. (Most practice owners agree that the most effective
marketing is done internally with existing clients.)

The question remains, is a practice owner shooting himself/herself in the foot by discounting their services? If this were three years ago, the answer would be yes, because these clients would be coming in anyways. Now, given our current environment, the answer may be no. Discounts and coupons may be the best way to salvage what you can from a bad situation.

Price Shopping/Loyalty Issues

What veterinarians have also found during this financial slump is that a client’s loyalty to their veterinarians — always assumed to be rock solid — has grown shakier. Owners are seeing more and more of the dreaded price-shopping. Clients still tend to come to their neighborhood veterinarians for serious items, but for routine vaccinations or products, they will often seek out the cheapest price. This could be another local veterinarian, a vaccine clinic, or something similar. Even for a “routine” surgical procedure like a spay or neuter, it is now not uncommon for clients to price shop. This has lead to further downward price pressure amongst neighborhood veterinarians.

Emergency Clinics

Of the different specialists, one of the hardest hit has been the emergency and critical care veterinarians. Recent dynamics have resulted in emergency and critical care practices getting financially impacted in two different ways.

First, more and more small animal practices, their own revenue and profits suffering, have opted to keep some of these emergency or critical care cases for themselves. Either the general practice is keeping longer hours, or the veterinarian is being contacted after hours and making the decision of whether to refer the case on or not. Both have resulted in fewer cases making it to the emergency clinic.

The other economic factor negatively impacting emergency and critical care practices is that pet owners, faced with a life or death decision for their pet, are opting not to spend the extra money when the chances of success are marginal. In the past, for many pet owners, price was no object if their animal was in a desperate way. Now, serious thought goes into whether to go forward with costly procedures when the animal’s chances of survival are not good.


A wave of mobile surgeons has hit the market, impacting specialty practices and providing another revenue source for small animal general practices. In the past, general practitioners would refer complicated surgeries out to boarded surgeons at nearby specialty practices. Now, more and more boarded surgeons are on their own and doing mobile work. This means that a general practice can pay the mobile surgeon a flat fee to come in and cut, while keeping the ancillary revenue related to the surgery (recovery time, for instance). This has dealt a blow to the large referral practices, while providing additional revenue to the general practice.

Given the current state of the economy, veterinary practice owners have been forced to change certain aspects of their business…or suffer the financial consequences.

You can click here to visit the VetPartners website

You can click here to visit the AAHA website

red line

australian flag

Australian Veterinary Business Association Conference Programme 2011


red line

USA flag

How to say what you mean

from an article by Michelle Hainer published in the DVM360 online magazine

In your daily interactions with clients and co-workers, there might be a big difference between what you say and what people hear. This type of miscommunication often results in hurt feelings, anger, and embarrassment. Even worse, a misunderstanding could end up negatively affecting the pets visiting your veterinary hospital.

“What we don’t realize in this go-go-go world is how our words impact people,” says communications expert Nance Guilmartin, author of Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say and The Power of Pause. To ensure you’re making the impact you intend, follow these five tips from Guilmartin.

  • Start by listening. “Most people think they know how to listen, but listening isn’t just waiting to speak,” Guilmartin says. Instead of finishing clients’ sentences, stop and let them wrap up before you respond. This ensures you’re replying to the statement they really made rather than what you anticipated they’d say. When you’re talking to clients — and colleagues — also avoid jumping in with your own tale of woe, such as, “Let me tell you about how sick my dog was…” While you can build bonds by sharing a few personal details, simply trumping other people’s comments rarely gets any point across except that you haven’t been paying attention to the speaker’s needs.
  • Rely on the rephrase. Because other people jumble their words too, put their statements into your own words. This helps open the lines of communication. For example, if clients rant about their long wait time, more than likely they’re worried about being late for another appointment or picking up their kids on time from soccer practice. “Pausing to say, ‘Let me see if I understand what you’re saying,’ or ‘Would it help if…’ really validates the person,” Guilmartin says. This ensures that you’re responding to the real issue–and it makes people less likely to bite your head off.
  • Temper your comments. Everyone has bad days, and a snippy response from a veterinary technician, for example, can certainly leave you seething. But remind yourself that the technician might have come directly from the back where she was dealing with an equipment malfunction or unruly pet and is simply taking her frustration out on you. “If someone treats you rudely, say, ‘So and So isn’t normally that way. I don’t mean to pry, but is there something going on that I should be aware of?'” Guilmartin says. Unless you and your fellow team members start wearing signs to express how you’re feeling (Do yourself a favor and stay away today!), you can’t know for sure why people respond the way they do. But what you can do is control your own reactions. Rather than retort back abruptly, take a second to plan your words. Then speak in a medium tone and speed so as not to convey any anger. Many times, people have trouble truly hearing comments twinged with irritation because they’re too busy reacting to the perceived ill will.
  • Avoid the phrase at least. “At least Buddy lived a good long life.” “At least that bite didn’t break the skin.” “At least you don’t have to answer the phones every day.” You get the picture. At the very least, the phrase at least completely discounts a person’s feelings, Guilmartin says. While you’re likely attempting to comfort people or minimize their fears, doing so in this way is akin to telling someone to suck it up. When you find yourself wanting to utter the phrase, pause instead, Guilmartin says. The brief silence is a way to acknowledge the person’s loss or difficulty. Then you can respond with statements that begin with, “I can’t imagine” or “It must be hard.” This
    small tweak in your words will prevent people from thinking you’re brushing them aside and allow them to see that you’re really trying to be supportive.
  • Watch your body language. Your posture, expressions, and movements convey as much meaning as your words. For example, if you cross your arms while in conversation, people might assume you’re upset even though you’re just trying to stay warm in the chilly office. If you frown in simple concentration, people might be turned off by what you’re saying. To avoid these misinterpretations, clue in your colleagues about a particular habit, Guilmartin says. Say something like, “When I’m standing a lot, I cross my arms. That’s just me being comfortable. I’m not annoyed with you.” And when all else fails, remind people that you’re just trying to make sure you say what you mean.

You can click here to visit the DVM360 website

red line

UK flag

The Yellow Pages Are Dead – Marketing Your Veterinary Practice in the Digital Age


The Internet has burst into life. It’s been around for a while now but it’s only in the past five years that things have really changed dramatically.

What’s been the difference? Two things. Firstly, we’re way past a point where the web was just a geeky thing for spotty tech-heads. The Internet is everywhere.

Secondly (and this is the game changer) — social media has allowed all these online users to band together into huge online communities.

In 1994 it was almost impossible to communicate with someone else unless you had his or her email address. Now you just hop onto your favourite social media site and hook up with one of the millions of other users out there.

It’s this connectedness that businesses should be excited about, or terrified of. Never before has the consumer had so much power and never before have businesses had such an amazing way to reach so many customers for so small a financial outlay.

For once this is a trend and tool that is not beyond the reach of veterinary practices. In fact, such is the trust and interest in what we do, I can think of few other businesses in such a good position to take advantage.

Many vet practices have already set up their Facebook accounts or Twitter pages. Few however have joined the dots to really take advantage of the opportunity.

This book will teach you what you need to do to effectively harness the power of the web to grow your business. And as we’re currently in the midst of a global recession/depression such an advantage can’t come quickly enough.

This eBook, the first of its kind, will show you how to create the type of content (including articles and videos) pet owners want, how to get it in front of them and finally how to convert web visitors into customers who pay to use your real life veterinary services.

Author, Dave Nicol draws from his experiences of being a vet, a business owner and a veteran website editor (having managed no fewer than six commercial
websites in the last decade). In his customarily upfront, plain-spoken and highly practical way he has created an easy read that teaches you everything you need to know about operating an effective website.

After Reading The Yellow Pages Are Dead You Will:

  • Understand why the web is useful to your practice
  • Learn how to create remarkable content for your practice website
  • Harness the power of social media and drive more visitors to your practice website
  • Convert online prospects into paying customers in your clinic.
  • Create an amazing website that is an asset to your practice not an embarrassment.

You can order your copy here and now – just click on the Buy Now link:

red line

australian flag

Know the price equation

by Winston Marsh

When we were little children our mother sat us on her knee and told us something we have never forgotten. And what was it? She said, “Darling in life you get what you pay for”. Because our mother, that dear wise fount of all knowledge said it, we took it as truth and filed it away.

As a result of what our dear old mum told us each of us has something buried deep in our subconscious. And what’s that? It’s the belief that the more we pay for something the better it must be.

Yes that’s right. People are actually conditioned from childhood to accept that the greater the price, the better the value. But there’s a condition to the acceptance of that belief. We must be able to see why we are paying the price. In other words we need “reasons why” to pay that price. If good reasons are given as to why they should pay more for this one than for that one, generally people will pay the higher price.

On the other hand if no solid, credible reasons are given as to why this one costs more than that then people will invariably buy the cheaper one because they can’t see any reasons why. People judge on price alone when they have no other means by which to judge.

So the moral to capitalise on mother’s teachings? Always explain why this one costs more than that one. You’ll often hear people say “These widgets are expensive but I bought them because of this and this and this.” They’ll know exactly what they were paying for.

A great way to do this is to say, “Let me tell you exactly what your money is buying” and then reel off the “reasons why” what you are recommending is worth the money.

You can click here to visit Winston Marsh’s website

red line

USA flag

Make Time for your bottom line

by Demian Dressler DVM

How many times have we attended a conference or read an article, been fascinated and delighted with the material, and promptly returned to the way we were doing things before?

This is commonplace for all of us.

One trick to creating what you prefer is remembering that old saying that insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. In other words, if we go back to doing what we did before, we will end up exactly where we started.

There is no doubt that discovering new and exciting information is satisfying to our minds. It makes us feel useful, like we are accomplishing something. And we can even check off some CE hours. Great!

But, there is more to this story. Thinking about doing and talking about doing are very, very different from…doing!

Before Implementation in Your Practice

The approach that is used in the Cornerman materials is focused on outcomes. Most outcomes are contigent on doing. Implementation is where the rubber meets the road.

We have abundant information available to help our bottom line in veterinary practices, whether a single doctor clinic or a veterinary franchise. We truly live in the information age. We can attend our conferences and workshops, read our journals, peruse online information sources, chat with our colleagues, and so on.

But in order to make real jumps in our bottom line, reduce stress, eliminate workplace toxicity, and produce a thriving business organization that we can be proud of from top to bottom, we must actually get in the ring and make some changes.

The only way to effect change is to make time for it. We are immersed in working in our business, but we must also work on our business if we ever want to achieve any vision or change.

The Results of Implementation

Have you allocated precious time to what is important to you, or are you reacting to stressors? Are you in control, or are you buffeted around by life events? Are you making deliberate choices, or are you being controlled by circumstance?

Now it the time to rise up and get it done!

red line