3 tips for making veterinary house calls

June 18, 2018
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

This company offers their years-tested marketing, financial help, phone-call support and more for a franchise fee and a cut of your profits. Whether you want to go with a house-call company like MVS or go it alone, heres some advice about what clients love house calls and what steps to take to make sure you do it right.

This dog really, REALLY doesn't want to go to the hospital. Can you, y'know, come check him out? (Shutterstock.com)Jeremy Gransky, a Boston-area house-call veterinarian for 13 years, has co-founded a franchise for the home-visit care model called MVS Pet Care. Here are rookie mistakes he doesn't make in the field:

Who gets screened out?

Client-service representatives field callers to Dr. Gransky's practice as well as franchisees in the MVS Pet Care network. We asked the doctor which callers realize a house call is not for them.

> Rabies-only price shoppers. “There's a $110 house call fee they don't want to pay,” he says.

> Owners of aggressive dogs. “I feel for them,” Dr. Gransky says, but if a potential client explains that a dog is aggressive and unsafe, and can't be muzzled, a house-call visit isn't in the cards either.

> Sticker-shock clients. A doctor's time and travel cost money, so the house-call fee means some pet owners opt out. Also, house-call veterinarians still collect samples for diagnostics, and that lab work isn't free. Just because the house-call vet isn't supporting a brick-and-mortar hospital doesn't mean care's cheap.

There are also people with patients that sound too critically ill or too complicated for a house-call visit. They're referred to emergency practices, specialty practices and outpatient imaging facilities in the area.

Who does it work perfectly for? “It's a godsend for the disabled [pet owners],” says Dr. Gransky as well as convenience for multi-pet households, busy parents, people who work a lot of hours and owners of pets too frail or too difficult to transport. “These people see the value.”

1. Eye your inventory

“Be sure you're bringing with you everything that you could possibly need for any given appointment. It would do the client and the patient a disservice if you didn't have a piece of equipment or medication the pet needed, and then you needed to reschedule. Clients pay a premium for a veterinarian to come to the house.”

What does that mean? Plan your vehicle cargo for what you need at the start of every day to take care of well and sick pets. Then, keep a running tally throughout the day and be sure to restock.

2. Draw up a plan for a good day

“You need to plan your day as well as possible. Come up with a schedule that's efficient. I'm certainly not a fan of the cable company's four-hour window for appointments. We want to give our house-call clients as close a time as possible. In order to do that, you have to have a handle on your schedule and where you'll be.”

That process, says Dr. Gransky, starts weeks before a wellness appointment as his phone team plans a day for one of the doctors. The team uses one to two anchor appointments booked way in advance to create a circuit through a doctor's service area, so if something happens and a sick pet needs to be seen, it should fit in somewhere along the route. They can estimate how much time each appointment should take based on the patient information and the individual characteristics of the client. (“Is it a little ol' lady who loves to talk? Work in some extra time,” Dr. Gransky says.)

3. Ask questions early

“Get as much information as possible ahead of time. We always request a new patient's previous records, because we want them in the doctor's hands as far ahead of the visit as possible to know exactly what that pet might need at that visit.”

Are there issues we need to keep in mind to make the visit go smoothly?

Does the cat get stressed? Maybe you can ask the client to confine it to a small room or bathroom, or maybe you need to arrange for a pre-visit sedative.

Could the dog be dangerous? What precautions could you take in advance? At the most extreme end, your team needs to ask questions to know whether this is a safe visit. (See “Who gets screened out?” above.)

Whether you get into business with a company like MVS Pet Care or try your hand at mobile-only or add house calls to your pre-existing brick-and-mortar hospital, plan ahead so you don't run into a few bad experiences and bail out on a new service that pet owners may want.