Merging general medicine with emergency and specialty care, Coral Springs Animal Hospital in Coral Springs, Fla., just may be the practice model of the future. But is it right for you? Here's a look inside this year's Hospital of the Year.
A former athletic club-turned-veterinary hospital, Coral SpringsAnimal Hospital takes up more than 19,500 square feet. The practice sitson a busy thoroughfare, near the former facility, for high visibility.
Long before it was popular to merge general practice, emergency care, and specialty medicine, Dr. Lloyd Meisels was on the path to doing just this. When many doctors were building their general practices, adding associates, and referring cases to specialists, Dr. Meisels hired on a full-time dermatologist.
Fast-forward 25 years. Now Coral Springs Animal Hospital in Coral Springs, Fla., boasts 11 specialties, 24-hour emergency care, and a thriving general practice. Though Dr. Meisels started adding specialists many years ago, what he built just may be the practice model of the future, according to some industry experts.
Coral Springs Animal Hospital caught the eye of the 2012 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition judges. They gave the practice top honors in the competition as the Hospital of the Year for excellence in design. The judges said this hospital is proof that great things can happen when you choose the right building for a conversion. Coral Springs Animal Hospital was originally a fitness center. The design team kept the shell of the building and transformed the interior into a multifaceted veterinary facility. The judges loved the hospital’s impressive exterior, welcoming interior, and organized floor plan. (Click here for design ideas for practices of every size—even if you're not building.)
“This practice model is the way to go,” says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board Member Dr. Fred Metzger, DABVP. “Many emergency clinics have already moved to this format, and many other factors play into this decision. And it’s only going to become more popular as older practitioners sell or retire out of practice, increasing numbers of female practitioners enter the profession, and clients demand more convenient veterinary care.”
Apparently, Coral Springs Animal Hospital has been ahead of the game for a long time. Dr. Meisels and his team earned kudos for his design efforts once before. In 1987 the practice earned a Merit Award in the Hospital Design Competition. (Click here for a sneak peek at this year's Merit Award winners.)
Photos by Tim Murphy, Foto Imagery
Wave of the future
“This practice model wasn’t anything that I specifically planned; it has just developed over the years,” says Dr. Meisels. “In my early years of practice I worked in New York and I was used to partnering with nearby specialists. I liked that backup in care.” Dr. Meisels first added a dermatologist, then continued adding specialists as the need arose. Now the practice boasts 11 specialties, including dentistry, surgery, oncology, cardiology, behavior, and internal medicine, to name a few. And that first dermatologist he hired? She’s still with the practice, after 25 years.
Dr. Meisels does believe that this is the practice model of the future. “Without a doubt, merging is the way of the future,” he says. “It’s a good model that works well for us, and we’re happy to partner with and be an extension of the general practices in our area.”
Why this model works
A lot of factors play into why this practice model is becoming more popular, Dr. Meisels says. “Our clients like the convenience of all of these specialties under one roof, and area veterinarians enjoy the extra care we can provide,” he says. “They also trust us to care for their patients—and send them right back where they belong when we’re done.”The real key to do this is not to compete with local veterinarians but to partner with them, he says. So why are more practices moving to a combined practice model? We recap some of the factors here.
> Younger doctors don’t want to own. Dealing with employees, accruing large debt, and being in charge of the future of a practice might push more recent graduates into a merged practice model, Dr. Metzger says. “This model allows them to be veterinarians, while relinquishing much of the management responsibility and giving them time off for themselves,” he says.
> More women are in the workforce. “With more women entering the veterinary field each year, we’re seeing a modified practice schedule,” says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Dennis Cloud. “Typically women who have children will need more flexible schedules, and this type of practice suits them well.”
Dr. Metzger agrees, stating that with about 80 percent of veterinary school graduates being women, the industry will see an increase in multiple-specialty practices. Emergency and 24-hour care especially causes a problem for young doctors with families, Dr. Metzger says. “Parents, especially moms, have a hard time covering their own emergencies because they interfere with a family’s schedule,” he says. (Don't agree? Click here to read a female perspective.)
> Older practices are closing up shop. With a large number of solo practitioners hitting retirement age, more doctors are merging their practices to make them more desirable for buyers, which gives them an easier exit strategy, says Dr. Metzger.
> Doctors don’t want to take their own emergencies. “Ten to 20 years ago, a good amount of our business came from overnight care,” says Dr. Cloud. “Now that number is down to about 1 percent, as we send most of our cases to a 24-hour care facility. It’s becoming the new norm.”
> Clients enjoy convenient care. Simply stated, many doctors like having backup specialists on site to confer with, and clients like the convenience of having everything they need in one location. And doctors like the advanced technologies that large practices afford.
While there are many great advantages to merging practice styles, these doctors do warn that it’s definitely not for everyone. For example, some clients still want to visit smaller one- and two-doctor practices for that hometown feel. “Many clients love to see their ‘own’ veterinarian, and the bigness of such a practice could disenchant them,” says Dr. Cloud. “It’s all a matter of perception that larger practices will have to work hard to combat.” Dr. Metzger also warns that merging into a larger practice could take away some practitioners’ independence.
My business, your business
While multiple practices, in essence, reside under one roof at Coral Springs Animal Hospital, Dr. Meisels stresses that he takes great pains to keep his general practice separate from the rest of the business. When the practice used paper files, the team color-coded general practice patients one color, emergency care patients another. Now that the hospital has gone digital, he keeps entirely separate databases of clients so as to never send reminders, mailings, or other communications to clients who are not his own.
“The real key is to treat the business as two separate practices,” he says. “We are not in competition with area general practitioners, but an extension of their practice, and we want to keep it that way.”
If a client visits for an emergency or self-refers to a specialist and can’t remember his or her regular veterinarian’s name, staff members will find out who to send the client back to. “We go out of our way to make sure clients get follow-up care from their regular doctor,” says Dr. Meisels. “We ask two questions: ‘Were you directly referred by another veterinarian?’ If no, we ask, ‘Will you be returning to a veterinarian that you’ve been seeing?’ This helps us decide how to label the client and ensure the best care possible.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Coral Springs Animal Hospital
2160 North University Drive
Coral Springs, FL 33071
Owners: Lloyd Meisels, DVM, and Bruce Sullivan, DVM
Associates: 18 full time, 9 part time
Hospital team: 97 full time, 8 part time
Practice type: 100 percent small animal: general, emergency, and specialty referral
Building size: 37,344 square feet
Exam rooms: 18
Parking spaces: 120 client and staff
Construction: $7.4 million (building only; excludes land purchase, landscaping, parking lot, etc.)
Land purchase: $4.3 million
Site improvement: $320,274
Professional fees: $663,799
Year built: 2008
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Entry: A sweeping 24-foot reception desk is the focal point of a freestanding island in the reception area. All ancillary services are packed into this one space, reducing steps for staff members and creating a central island around which a one-way client flow is driven. Clients enjoy watching the boarded cats from the reception area.
Exam time: Eighteen exam rooms are grouped into four pods of four to five exam rooms each. (Behind each pod are outpatient treatment areas and work stations.) In the exam rooms themselves, clients sit diagonally from the exam tables, giving them a front row seat. Each exam pod features a high-definition digital imaging monitor for clients to view their pets’ cases.
Neighborhood areas: Similar to the pod system for exam rooms, the practice also uses “neighborhoods” that encapsulate the exam rooms, surgery, imaging, ICU, and a group of sub-specialty functions. These areas provide structure to the facility while streamlining staff and services.
Luxury boarding: The upscale boarding area includes spacious suites with brightly colored tile walls decorated in South Beach art nouveau style. The glassed-in rooms include a video screen and views to the greenway, and are gathered around a light-filled atrium where a staff member monitors the pets from a work station.
Cat’s eye view: Boarded feline patients have a front-row seat to spy on the reception area. They are the first to know when clients arrive and leave the clinic.
Scrub-a-dub: The canine bathing room is complete with cages with dryers and a ramp (under the tub) that pulls out for easy dog access.
Doctors' Work Station
Hard at work: Eschewing a typical doctors’ office, this practice instead features doctor work stations scattered throughout the hospital.
Saying goodbye: With dimmable lighting and no stainless steel in sight, this room is a great escape for grieving clients who have lost a pet.
Resting place: This "beach" is located in the ICU and provides comfort for dogs coming out of anesthesia.
Therapy time: The rehabilitation area features an underwater treadmill, balancing therapy, and holding cages for patients. Floor-to-ceiling windows give clients and staff members easy visual access to patients in this area.
Dog stop: The canine ward comes equipped with cages, 32 hospital indoor and 37 boarding indoor runs with partial-height privacy panels.
Cut open the details: This is where the magic happens at Coral Springs Animal hospital. In addition to surgery, the practice boasts 10 specialties including dentistry, oncology, cardiology, behavior, and internal medicine, to name a few.
Special circumstances: Complete with natural lighting, digital radiograph readout, and anesthesia monitor, the specialty surgery suite is the perfect place to heal patients.