Whether you do a formal SWOT analysis or jot down plans for the upcoming year, every business wants to map out a plan for success. For most Veterinary practices, goals such as seeing more patients, improving revenue, reducing expenses, achieving a specific EBIDTA, expanding medical services, or hiring more team members will help in the effort to have a successful Veterinary business. However, the business landscape is changing with e-commerce, remote work, and new technologies. In addition, consumer preferences and behaviors create new demands on the business. All of these should factor into your strategic plan for future business success.

It is hard enough to formulate a strategic plan based on years of standard operating procedures; it is even harder to “read the tea leaves” and know what actions will bring success over the next few years. Instead of conducting a massive overhaul of the business or sticking to the same plan of years past, target two specific issues in your next strategic plan – access and experience. Both are critical in today’s business landscape.

In this two-part series, we will explore ways to upgrade your strategic plan. Part one will address access to care, and part two will look at how to improve the experience of your clients when they deal with your practice, as well as the experience of your team members as they perform their duties.

Access to Care

Access to care used to be thought of as “build it, and they will come” (borrowing a line from a famous movie). Build (or purchase) a practice, post the hours of operation on the front door, and wait for the phone to ring. If the pet needs specialty care, fax the medical records and wait for the next available opening to see the specialist. Emergency situation? Squeeze it in during office hours or refer to the nearest ER facility. Access to care meant clients following standard office hours and procedures and veterinarians working long hours with little work/life balance. This model worked for some, but it started to increase frustration for clients who viewed their pets as important family members and slowly eroded the health and well-being of the Veterinary team. So, what should a Veterinary business do today to improve access to care without causing team burnout or risking a loss of patient visits?

  • Telemedicine and Virtual Care – Provide access to care without working more hours. Use platforms that allow clients to consult with veterinarians remotely and provide access to care without always needing an in-person visit. A good example of this is the work that GuardianVet is doing with after-hours and triage services, a virtual front desk, and an app for client communications (https://guardianvets.com).
  • Online Appointment Scheduling – Stop losing patients to the game of “phone tag.” Make it easier for clients to book appointments without waiting for the practice to be open or for a CSR to call back. Check out how Vetstoria (www.vetstoria.com) is syncing with your practice management system and providing 24/7 scheduling capabilities to your clients.
  • Membership, Wellness, and Preventive Care Programs – End the frustration of seeing pets too sick to successfully treat. Implement a membership plan that includes regular exams, vaccinations, diagnostics, dental care, and nutritional guidance. Not only will it keep pets healthier and catch potential issues early, but it also helps clients budget for Veterinary care by spreading the cost of care over 12 months. Could you convert your practice to a 100% membership-only model? A good example of this is the work that Modern Animal is doing (https://www.modernanimal.com).
  • Home Health Technician Visits – Remove barriers to care for pets that don’t travel well or clients with limited mobility. A home health technician is an extension of the veterinarian – administering treatments, obtaining samples, coordinating a virtual visit, and conducting a physical examination. Additionally, any client juggling work, kids, pets, elder care, and more would appreciate an option for a home health visit. Consider establishing the service in your practice or contract with a third party like “The Traveling Tech and Pet Consultant”
  • Innovative Diagnostic Tools – Stop waiting for the next follow-up exam to check on the progress of a patient. Use diagnostic tools to gather patient data in real-time and work with the client to make changes in the treatment plan. Advances in technology are opening the door to a wide array of diagnostic tools that can be used at home for remote patient monitoring. For example, Maven AI-VetTM uses a smart collar to monitor the pet, a mobile app, and an advanced AI system to analyze the data and identify potential health issues in real time (https://landing.maven.pet/aivet). MySimplePetLab (https://mysimplepetlab.com) provides home test kits for diarrhea and ear and skin infections. Your client sends a sample from their pet to the lab and the results are auto-shared with the veterinarian. Embark DNA test kit (https://embarkvet.com) goes beyond breed identification to also include genetic health risks. Finally, one cannot ignore the number of home blood glucose monitoring systems, color-changing litter, urine test strips, and home pregnancy tests for monitoring a pet from the comfort of home.
  • Cloud-based PIMS – While listing it here under improving access to care, cloud-based PIMS also improves the client experience and the team’s work experience. A cloud-based PIMS offers convenient appointment booking, access to pet records, appointment reminders, telemedicine consultations, real-time updates, secure communication, online prescription requests, billing and payment, and continuity of care if the client is seen within the same practice but at another location. Two companies leading in this area are Digitail (https://www.digitail.com/features) and Shepherd Veterinary Software (https://www.shepherd.vet). Overall, a cloud-based PIMS provides convenience, accessibility to information, and opportunities for client participation in their pet’s care.

Improving access to care does not have to involve extending office hours or working 24/7. It does involve thinking outside the box and utilizing new services and technologies that expand access to care beyond the four walls of your exam room. The fact that you have always “done it this way” doesn’t mean you have to continue doing so, especially if the business landscape is changing and impacting business success.

Do not feel that you must implement all of the suggestions for improving access to care at your practice. Spend some time looking at de Novo and alternate care models that are breaking from the traditional Veterinary business model to provide access to care and a great Veterinary experience in innovative ways (e.g., PetFolk, Modern Animal, Sploot Veterinary Care, BondVet, and BoosterPet). A strategic plan that involves a non-traditional business model offers clients different ways to access care. Whereas the traditional Veterinary model relied on phone calls, limited office hours, and in-person visits, today’s innovative business model includes greater access to care, virtual care, remote teams, membership plans, apps, technology, and other methods of delivering Veterinary care.

Seek professional advice and talk to a Veterinary consultant to help you sort through your goals, key practice numbers, and client demographics to plan a course of action. You can find a consultant at https://member.vetpartners.org/Directory.

In part two of upgrading your strategic plan for future success, the focus will be on experience. This includes the experience of your clients as they do business with your practice and the experience of the team as they carry out their duties of delivering Veterinary care and client services.