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Veterinary – Strategies For Success library

Hospital of the future: A sneak peak at upcoming changes in veterinary practices

by Michael Cavanaugh and Tracey Jensen | 01/05/2014 | Equipment & Technology , Vet

Before planning your hospital expansion or build-out, take a look at these trends that are shaping tomorrow?s veterinary practices.

If you?ve been practicing veterinary medicine for any length of time, you already know the industry is undergoing an evolution in both business and animal care practices. Corporate- run hospitals, multi-doctor practices, and increased specialty services are all improving the industry while simultaneously creating pressure for the traditional privately-owned, single-doctor operation.

In the midst of this fluid environment are numerous opportunities for enhancing the veterinary practice, and those who embrace the changes taking place will lay a solid foundation for ongoing growth and success.

Following are notable trends that are shaping the veterinary hospital of the future:

Pets as family members
Among the most significant trends in animal care is the client?s embrace of their pets as part of the immediate family. We expect this approach to expand going forward, with an evolving human-animal bond that has many implications for the veterinary practice. Clients will increasingly seek care for their pets that approximates the quality of medical treatment they demand for themselves, and will be willing to pay for those services. To respond effectively to this trend, practices will need to incorporate an expanding array of diagnostic and medical services through multi-doctor teams or a network of specialists to whom they can refer their clients.

Focus on practice management software
Advanced practice management software is fast becoming one of the most important technologies in the veterinary hospital as it has the capability of tracking and managing all other systems. According to the 2013 American Animal Hospital Association State of the Industry report, 17% of laboratory tests are not captured on client invoices, representing a significant loss of revenue for practices.

New software systems can also automate the inventory supply process. Practices today require less inventory on hand since same or next day delivery are readily available, giving them greater flexibility to change products and supplies as needed. A practice management system with automated inventory control helps save personnel time and storage space, while increasing cash flow with fewer dollars tied up in stored inventory.

Culture change: forward booking
Veterinary practices only pre-book their patients? next appointment about 5% of the time, compared to dental practices that pre-book 80% of the time as patients are departing from a dental visit. Doubling that rate to 10% in veterinary practices would add about $350 million back into the profession. If pre-booking is combined with an effective reminder system, we can probably add an additional $100 million into the profession ? all in the best interest of the pet.

However, pre-booking will require a significant change in veterinary culture. Veterinarians tend to be reactive rather than proactive, probably because their patients can?t speak. Since pets have no way to communicate their needs, vets are typically left to react to an issue once it?s become full-blown ? when a cracked tooth has become an abscess, or an upset stomach a serious infection.
So in addition to being a smart business tactic, proactively pre-booking pets for a regular check-up enables the team to catch potential problems before they become more painful for the animal, and more expensive for the client.

Team-centered structure
The traditional veterinary practice features a doctor-centered operation with clients spending the majority of their time with the veterinarian. Today we see a growing trend towards a team approach that leverages veterinary technicians, assistants and customer service representatives to improve efficiencies in the allocation of doctor time and hospital space. The team structure has long been used with great success in other professions, such as dental and optometric practices where specific procedures are delegated to qualified members of the team. Veterinary medicine will increasingly employ this business model to manage greater numbers of patients and diversify their services.
Mobile medicine
Many specialized veterinary services are quickly becoming mobilized and available to practices on an as-needed basis, with Board-certified specialists bringing portable equipment into a veterinary hospital to perform a specific procedure onsite. This enables a practice to offer additional expertise without having to carry the overhead of added personnel and equipment. Tomorrow?s practices should account for on-call specialists in their overall hospital design.
Wellness plans
We see a growing trend in the acceptance of wellness plans that promote healthy pets as well as healthy practices. A plan might be structured with 12 monthly payments per annum, covering twice yearly exams and basic preventive and dental care. Augmented plans for older patients could also include blood work and urinalyses. The result is a reliable income stream for the practice as well as consistent, improved care for pets.

Client centricity
Happy clients are at the heart of every successful practice ? so as tomorrow?s hospitals incorporate advanced services, business models and efficiencies, it will be ever-important to maintain their focus on client satisfaction. For those practices that choose a team-oriented structure, this means including the client as a member of your general animal care team, incorporating their input through active dialogue with all members. For hospitals that maintain a doctor-oriented focus, you will increasingly need to expand your network of services to meet the expectations of your clients and the needs of their pets.

The trends shaping the veterinary hospitals of tomorrow are exciting for the industry, bringing significant opportunities to improve animal care and practice efficiencies. By integrating some of these trends within your own practice today, you will be well-positioned for success ? both now, and into the future.


Michael Cavanaugh and Tracey Jensen
Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP, is AAHA's chief executive officer. A graduate of Kansas State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cavanaugh has practiced small animal medicine at various AAHA accredited practices, including West Ridge Animal Hospital in Topeka, KS, a hospital he founded and owned from 1988-1996. Dr. Cavanaugh can be reached at 303-986-2800 or mike.cavanaugh@

Tracey Jensen, DVM, DABVP (C/F), CVA, is AAHA's vice president for 2013-2014. She earned her DVM from Colorado State University in 1996. Since 1999, Jensen has owned Wellington Veterinary Clinic in Wellington, CO. Dr. Jensen can be reached at 303-986- 2800 or

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