Today's veterinary market is being pulled by two opposing trends.
Today's veterinary market is being pulled by two opposing trends. The first is the increasing cost of building a veterinary hospital. The second is higher expectations for medicine and quality of care.
With careful planning, it is possible to design an affordable hospital that still stays ahead of industry expectations. The first step is to understand the societal factors that are creating these trends and putting pressure on the practice of veterinary medicine.
Whole-Life Care. Today's pet owners consider their pets to be companions and participants in their everyday lives. Future veterinary hospitals will focus on whole-life care and will offer cradle-to-grave services, such as adoption, wellness, behavior, daycare, nutrition, rehabilitation, geriatrics, euthanasia, and grieving.
Consumer Differentiation. As consumers look for products and services that speak to their specific needs and values, veterinary practices will diversify to meet these needs. It will be increasingly important to form a practice philosophy that targets your clientele and differentiates you from your competition.
Emphasis on Diagnostics. The next generation of veterinary hospitals will see an increase in the emphasis on diagnostics over treatment. Diagnostic imaging is currently undergoing dramatic improvements and is likely to become one of the greatest areas of growth in the veterinary field. As imaging equipment becomes more powerful and more accurate, veterinarians will be able to use imaging more effectively to diagnose and manage disease while reducing trauma to patients.
Specialty Referral and Emergency. We are seeing a strong emerging trend toward centralizing services and facilities through the creation of specialty referral and emergency practices. Many veterinarians are trending away from providing all of the available medical services to their clients. Instead, they are combining resources to provide some services through specialists.
Boarding and Daycare. Modern pet owners are constantly on the move. Many take their pets on vacation, but others are looking for boarding resorts. Many are also looking for pet daycare. So there is an increasing demand for quality boarding and daycare services, and people are willing to pay for it.
Increasing Land Costs. Just a few years ago, we advised that veterinarians should not spend more than 25 to 30 percent of their investment in a facility on the land. However, land costs have increased so much, especially in urban areas, that this is no longer possible in many cases. The veterinary industry is in the process of addressing this quandary by offering creative financing solutions.
Increasing Construction Costs. Construction costs have increased on an average of 1 percent per month for the last two to three years, which is a dramatic increase over the typical 3 to 5 percent per year cost increases that the industry experienced in the past. Veterinary practices are having more difficulty affording the costs of new buildings and are looking to architects to help with creative design solutions.
New Requirements. The construction industry is changing to meet the demands of both society and governments. The future will require buildings to be "green" and energy efficient. While these approaches are beneficial to our society as a whole, they are still more expensive than traditional approaches and are affecting building costs.
Balancing the tug of war between your wallet and your dreams can be as simple as coming up with strategic design solutions. The following are innovative approaches to hospital design that seek to address the changes to the field.
These strategies seek to reduce circulation, encourage multi-use, and increase efficiency.
Exam Pod Concept. This concept is used in many forms in human medical facilities and is effective in veterinary facilities that focus on outpatient care. The pod concept groups three or four exam rooms in a configuration that allows a doctor and tech team to work a series of exam rooms simultaneously in conjunction with high-density scheduling. The advantage to this approach is that the "one-door exam room" significantly saves on square footage, because it eliminates double circulation.
Multi-task Exam Room. In many veterinary hospitals, exam rooms are not used to full capacity during the middle hours of the day. By creating a folding wall in the back of the room, the room can function as an exam room in the morning and evening rush hours, and can be used as an additional treatment area during the day.
Open Exam Room. Some veterinary hospitals are seeking to add additional exam space and advertise quality care by creating a place to perform exams in an open area off the waiting room. An open exam room often functions well as an overflow exam room.
Ready Room. The ready room is a mini-treatment room adjacent to the exam rooms. This space works well with the pod concept and high-density scheduling. A technician can do minor procedures in the ready room, which allows the doctor to go on to the next exam room. At the same time, the client can be moved back to the waiting room after his pet has been moved to the ready room, thus freeing the exam room for another client and patient.
Resource Room. This multi-purpose room can be accessible to waiting, treatment, and the doctors' offices. It can have a large table, similar to a conference table, and shelves and desks around the perimeter. It can be can be used as a library, a gathering space, or an additional workspace.
Express Check-in/Checkout. Similar to an airport baggage check-in or hotel concierge, arriving clients are met at the curb to be quickly and efficiently helped with their pet. Checking out is done in a more private setting, such as an exam room, rather than a corner of the reception desk. This solution can be a great way to provide extra service to your clients without increasing square footage.
The Greeter's Station. As wireless computer networks become more prevalent, veterinary hospitals will conduct much of their business on the spot. Checkout can occur in exam rooms and business management can happen anywhere in the hospital. The greeter's station allows the receptionist to become a greeter who is focused solely on the client. This replaces the traditional reception desk and is a place where the greeter can talk with the client uninterrupted without having to answer the phone or attend to other business.
Another approach to addressing higher costs is to build space in the new hospital that is dedicated to functions for which you can draw additional business and provide additional services.
Diagnostic and Imaging Centers. As diagnostic imaging becomes more important to the practice of veterinary medicine, more hospitals will be designed with diagnostic centers. New hospital designs should be flexible to add more diagnostic equipment in the future.
High-End Boarding. A veterinary hospital that seeks to appeal to the desire for high-end boarding can offer spa and resort services for pets. This may take the form of apartment-like animal housing, grooming, and outdoor landscaped areas.
Therapy and Rehabilitation. The fields of therapy and rehabilitation are rapidly growing. Many veterinarians are looking to increase their capacity for wellness care by providing rooms for therapy and rehabilitation. If properly planned, rehabilitation programs can be lucrative and low maintenance, and can reinforce the bond between your practice and your client.
Retail. Some veterinary hospitals have added high-end retail to capitalize on the pet supply industry and provide clients with the convenience of being able to purchase pet supplies while at your office.
The practice of veterinary medicine has undergone dramatic changes over the last 50 years to meet the increasingly specialized demands of the market. In this evolution, veterinarians have proven that they can adapt to a clientele that continues to place higher value on the health and well being of companion animals.
Future hospitals will continue to provide settings for the industry's highest level of care, while at the same time becoming much more dynamic as it becomes necessary to coax greater numbers of services and functions into smaller square footages. To find the creative solutions, set aside your notions of what a traditional hospital does, and focus instead on what it can do.