Endoscopy: Small incisions, big benefits


A $30,000 investment can produce $200,000 in revenue-and minimal patient trauma.

Not long after Dr. Randy Hutchison joined Animal Clinic Northview in North Ridgeville, Ohio, he attended an endoscopy course and began offering the service at his hospital. Now, seven years later, endoscopy is bringing in more than $200,000 for the practice every year—and his clients are thrilled. "We have a very well-educated clientele," he says. "And they want the absolute best for their pets."

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Deer Creek Animal Hospital in Littleton, Colo., has experienced similar benefits. Co-owner Dr. Ray Cox participated in a study published in JAVMA (September 2005) concluding that laparoscopic ovariohysterectomy resulted in less pain than the traditional procedure. Ever since, that's the only way the practice does spays. "We don't offer pain management or preanesthetic testing as options—they're required," says Dr. Markee Kuschel, who performs endoscopy at the practice. "Why would we knowingly do something that's more painful for the patient?"

Both Animal Clinic Northview and Deer Creek Animal Hospital charge $200 to $300 extra for an endoscopic procedure. And doctors at both practices admit that not every pet owner is willing to pay that. "But for every client who's gone elsewhere because they don't want endoscopy, I have 30 new ones who come to me specifically because I offer it," Dr. Hutchison says.

A $30,000 piece of equipment is not an investment to make lightly, but the technology pays for itself quickly, our experts say. Here are their tips:

1. Invest in good equipment. Don't waste your time on eBay or recycle a human-hospital leftover, Dr. Hutchison says. "If you get blurry or cloudy images, the equipment will go into the closet," Dr. Hutchison says. "If you spend enough for a good unit, you'll use it."

2. Market smart. Deer Creek Animal Hospital sends home images with clients whose pets have undergone endoscopy. Those clients tell their friends about, say, the liver biopsy that caused their dog no pain, then show the pictures—with the hospital's logo and contact information printed at the top. The result? Word-of-mouth referrals.

3. Mention endoscopy early and often. If one of Dr. Hutchison's patients has a chronic UTI, he'll discuss a possible bladder scope as soon as he realizes appropriate treatment isn't resolving the problem. By the time a patient is ready for an endoscopic procedure, the client is fully prepared.

4. Prep the team. When Dr. Hutchison started offering endoscopy, he held a staff meeting to explain the new service. What's more, he performed endoscopy on team members' pets. "Most of the time staff members sell endoscopy before I even enter the exam room," Dr. Hutchison says. At Deer Creek Animal Hospital, receptionists watch a traditional spay and then a laparoscopic spay. After this, "receptionists become your greatest advocates," Dr. Cox says.

5. Designate a technician. Dr. Hutchison trained a single technician to work on endoscopy cases. "If you have a team member with accountability and expertise, you greatly reduce damage to the equipment," Dr. Hutchison says. "Repair costs can eat up your bottom line quickly."

6. Let the community know. Dr. Hutchison speaks to breeders' groups and shows up at dog shows—both great opportunities to talk about endoscopy. Dr. Kuschel works with rescue groups, who can tell people that their new pet has had a laparoscopic spay performed. Pet owners then seek out these practices specifically for their endoscopic capabilities.

"As veterinarians, I think we underutilize technologies that clients want," Dr. Hutchison says. "We stare across the exam room wondering what clients are willing to pay, while they stare at us wondering why we're not offering the best option."

How'd your practice grow?

Tell us about a great idea that boosted your practice's bottom line. You get $50 if we use it in an upcoming issue. E-mail ideas to ve@advanstar.com

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