There comes a time in the history of virtually every veterinary practice or veterinary hospital where operations, morale, customer care, or profitability aren’t where they need to be – leaving a veterinary practice owner/doctor wondering: Do I need a veterinary practice management consultant to fix this? There are times to do it yourself, and there are simply times when you need the outside perspective of independent veterinary practice management consulting.
If you’re pondering whether you need a veterinary practice management consultant, you probably need one. However, there typically are clear signs that indicate it’s time to call in the cavalry. Learn to recognize the five warning signs that you need professional veterinary management consulting.
You Dread Going to Work
Ask yourself “Why do I feel this way?” Are you overworked? Is there a negative team dynamic that results in a lack of partnership and a culture of ‘every person for themselves’? Do you disagree with current hospital policies and procedures?
As an impartial third party, a veterinary consultant is the ideal professional to observe what is going well, what could be improved, and make suggestions for operational improvements. A veterinary practice management consultant understands business and team dynamics that can impact the success of your practice, and can help identify the problem, and then develop a working plan to resolve the issues.
Employee Turnover Is High
High employee turnover typically indicates issues with company culture, employee interactions, and career growth possibilities. Ask yourself: What is the culture in my practice? Is it healthy and productive? How do employees treat each other? How are they treated by the leadership team? Are there advancement opportunities for those who want them? Are your employees encouraged to continue to grow their skills and are they supported in their efforts?
There are many reasons that veterinary hospital employees decide to leave a hospital. Although the most frequently reported reason is due to financial compensation, the real reasons usually revolve around feeling unappreciated and not being challenged to continue to grow their competencies. A disconnect in effective communications, at the team level or with management often results in employees not feeling ‘heard.’ Through a thorough pre-site evaluation that includes confidential staff input, these problems can be defined and solutions implemented, leading to happier, cohesive teams.
Medical Transaction (Customer Appointments) Are Decreasing
Do you know how many medical transactions are performed on a monthly basis? Do you compare the prior year medical transactions to the current year to identify if you’re up or down? Do you routinely have open appointments that don’t fill in?
There are many reasons that can contribute to a decrease in the number of medical transactions. These include, but are not limited to, increased veterinary competition resulting in more client choices, ineffective or nonexistent client reminder systems, inappropriate or unsatisfactory client service, inconsistent recommendations, poor teamwork, and inefficient hospital work flow management resulting in prolonged client waiting times. A savvy veterinary management consultant, particularly one with actual experience operating a veterinary hospital, can observe the many processes within a veterinary hospital and identify areas in which the methods can be modified to deliver outstanding client and patient services, improve the customer experience, and bring customers back through the door.
New Clients Are Far and Few Between
How many new clients does your hospital attract on a monthly basis? How do your monthly new client numbers compare over a three-year time frame? Are the number of new clients increasing, decreasing, or static? How many new clients do you need to compensate for “lost” clients: those who move, become pet-less, or seek veterinary services elsewhere? Do you know the national average for monthly new client numbers?
According to a 2014 AAHA pet owner study conducted by Trone Brand Energy,  61% of clients surveyed have chosen a new veterinarian in the past five years! These numbers are astounding, and indicate a real need for assessing how to retain existing customers, while adding new ones. Growing your practice by adding new clients is vital to sustainability, given that the statistics show that you will lose 61% of your client base in the next five years. The most common reasons for selecting a new vet include a closer location, a new pet, a first-time pet owner, or owner relocation.
Reasons for decreased new client numbers include increased veterinary competition, ineffective marketing efforts, inability to convert phone shoppers to active clients, inadequate community presence, a lack of desirable service offerings, and a veterinary team that is not focused on the client experience. An experienced veterinary management consultant will perform pre-visit competitive market analysis of your hospital, as well as that of your closest colleagues. The consultant will review new client numbers to study trends and compare the hospital data to the national benchmarks. While present in your veterinary hospital, the veterinary practice management consultant will evaluate team performance throughout the entire client visit experience, identifying areas that can be improved upon to provide a customer focused visit. The result should be retention of more existing clients, and improved new client intakes.
Your Profitability Is Stagnant or Decreasing
Do you understand the difference between productivity and profitability? Do you calculate your profitability on a regular basis? Do you know how your hospital compares with the national averages? Do you introduce new services to your hospital offerings to further meet the needs of your customers? How often do you implement price increases?
As veterinarians, we typically are not well-trained to understand the Key Performance Indicators that measure the health of our veterinary practices and hospitals. For many veterinary professionals, their interests lie with their clients and patients, rather than investing time to evaluate financial metrics. In order to help pets and their people, a veterinary hospital must be financially sound so that there can be continually improved doctor and team education, updated equipment, and progressive new services offered.
A veterinary management consultant understands and will evaluate the financial health of your practice. Through effective staff management and training, inventory management, profit center analysis and benchmarking to national averages, missed opportunities and lost revenue are identified and processes put in place to enhance retained earnings.
If you’re experiencing three or more of the warning signs listed above, you have three choices: you can ignore these warning signs (to the detriment of your veterinary practice); you can tackle these problems yourself (which may compromise your ability to perform your day-to-day job duties) or you can bring in a veterinary practice management consulting to tackle the most pressing problems first.
Identifying the challenges you face in operating a veterinary practice, and then identifying the areas where you don’t have the expertise, the time, or the neutral, outside perspective to address them are the key steps to developing a healthy, thriving veterinary practice. The sole function of a veterinary practice management consultant is to help your practice become more healthy, more productive, and more profitable, and to create a quality of work life that benefits everyone on the veterinary team. In doing this, the numbers typically improve, as does the bottom line.
About The Author:
Dr. Wendy Hauser is a veterinary practice management consultant, and the president and founder of Peak Veterinary Consulting in metro Denver, Colorado. She can be reached at: 303.809.0889, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.PeakVeterinaryConsulting.com