Got a Friend in D.C.?


WASHINGTON - Financially, this practice has never had a down year.

WASHINGTON - Financially, this practice has never had a down year.

The practice is devoted to offering primary care to its more than 23,000 active clients. Drs. Sandra Schneider, an emergency medicine intern, and Tony Rusk discuss a case.

At least it is true since the early 1980s when Dr. Peter S. Glassman bought it.

Friendship Hospital for Animals is the only emergency facility in D.C. proper, and has acquired an active client base that is larger than the population of some small cities, topping out at 23,000 and roughly treating 30,000 animals every year.

While Glassman says its clientele may not represent a Who's Who listing of D.C.'s movers and shakers, the practice is extremely busy and prides itself on being a full-service primary-care facility, all day, every day. The result has paid big dividends. Glassman says the practice has grown every single year, and in most years by as much as 10 percent, since he acquired it.

"Just when I think we can never beat last year's numbers, we seem to do it," he grins.

Rounds are an important part of transitioning medical cases. It also gives the practice's 15 veterinarians time to consult with each other. The DVMs at Friendship review cases with Dr. Pamela E. Schrager, chief of emergency services.

The clientele at Friendship Hospital for Animals is well-educated, urban, white collar and expect quality of care.

"People have high expectations, and we try to deliver with the quality of care we provide," Glassman explains.

While there's about an equal number of dogs and cats seen at the hospital, canine revenue outnumbers cat revenue by a ratio of 2:1. Exotics are not part of the mix.

Staffing up

The practice has 15 veterinarians on staff and employs a total staff of 85. The practice grosses about $7 million a year.

So, what drives him?

Glassman says, "As a friend of mine once told me, there are two great motivators; fear and greed. There is a huge responsibility to keep this hospital healthy and many people rely on me to do just that. Beyond that there is friendship and culture at this hospital that drives me. Well, that and fear," he admits.

Dr. Peter Glassman

For Glassman some of the proudest moments as manager and owner of such a large hospital come when his entire staff is assembled. It could be at a annual party which he hosted this year at the zoo, or when an employee retires; a rare feat in any small business. Glassman speaks with pride when asked about the tenure among some of the staff including veterinarians and technicians. It is not uncommon to have staff who have been there as long as 12 years, or in one case, one employee retired after 40 years of service.

The Cornell graduate says, "There is a perception of family with every organization. As an owner, it is very, very expensive to retrain and hire, so we want to keep people around. If you treat staff like family and let them know how much they are appreciated. I think they will stick around. It's really a win-win," Glassman explains.

Building success

The hospital was founded in 1936. Friendship's current facility was built in the 1960s. In 1999, Glassman undertook a major redesign. The result has been better use of existing space, and a design that is fresh, spotless and decidedly upscale. The hospital is home to an open and very clean reception area equipped with televisions, a children's play area and a small enclosed merchandising window.

The design goals were to make the space aesthetically pleasing, and use all of the hospital's existing space to its maximum potential, Glassman explains. With so many employees working in the hospital, functionality was a critical ingredient. To add more space, the basement of the facility was rehabilitated to have a lounge area and house more offices.

The practice concentrates on three key areas of canine and feline medicine: surgery, diagnostics and emergency care. Dr. Paula Stewart is an intern at Friendship Hospital for Animals.

Getting a hospital of this size to run like clockwork takes time, Glassman adds.

The internal workings of the hospital are structured into three main departments, medicine, technicians and hospital administration. The departments all have a management structure, and they are also responsible for hiring employees. Glassman explains it is still a small business and its departmental structure hasn't diminished the closeness of its staff.

Because the hospital employs so many doctors, all scheduled in rotations, clients are encouraged to request doctors. With so many doctors and so many patients, scheduling visits all the way through follow-up care, it takes the entire team to accomplish one of Friendship's main missions to provide high-quality veterinary care. One logistical mechanism to accomplish the goal of maintaining such a large client base has been the transition to a paperless practice, Glassman explains.

Friendship maintains an expansive computer system and gives each doctor his and her own computer workstation in an open environment. Various other workstations are scattered throughout the hospital. All of the patient's medical information is entered via computers. Patient information is tracked and even hosted online at

The Internet tool

The success at Friendship has also led Glassman to start another company called VetInsite. This Internet company is creating "pet portals" for a participating clinic's client base. The idea is to create a secure, password-protected Web page about pets as a way to spur communication efforts with owners. This concept allows clients to view reminders, check scheduled appointments, get basic health information and tips, and adopt pets, just to name a few functions.

The practice is now paperless. Computer work stations are located throughout the hospital, and each doctor has his or her own terminal to follow-up on cases. Dr. Jennifer Ross is a staff veterinarian.

Glassman says VetInsite is an enhancement to existing veterinary practice management systems. The company provides users of existing practice management systems a practice Web site. They can then create these pages for pets from data extracted from the practice management software. "We are trying to create for each practice an online practice community so that pet owners can go to the practice Web site and they feel bonded to this group."

Glassman says, "We provide a way for veterinarians to create this educated and bonded pet community." (For more information go to

Glassman has learned through his success at Friendship that client communication is an extremely important part of maintaining a loyal clientele.

At Friendship, the efforts have worked.

Movers and shakers

Washington D.C. is considered a transient community. When one presidential administration moves in, other bureaucrats move out.

In spite of the reputation, Glassman says his client base has remained very stable. Many Washingtonians may work for the government, but there is a population pool that is very constant. Glassman himself is a third generation Washingtonian.

While Friendship has not traditionally entered into the specialty veterinary care market, they do offer oncology services from Chand Khanna, DVM, Ph.D., dipl. ACVIM, who spends a few days a week at the hospital. Behavior and cardiology are also specialty areas covered by the hospital from visiting specialists Luis Braz-Ruivo, DVM, ACVIM diplomate, cardiology, and Dr. Steven Feldman, a veterinarian and behaviorist.


Dr. Pamela E. Schrager, chief of emergency service, says that a great deal of communication between doctors and technicians is a necessity because of patient volume. Schrager says the doctors spend a lot of time sharing information on particular cases.

Morning, afternoon and evening rounds are conducted to discuss and review cases every day, but equally important is developing advanced training for the doctors and technicians, Schrager explains.

The practice has a once-a-week journal club in which doctors review research or techniques, and share the information during these meetings. In addition, the doctors review morbidity and mortality cases as a learning exercise. Boarded specialists may also present information to the doctors as a way of enhancing continuing education at the hospital.

Goodwill and Friendship

Glassman says the hospital has also set up funds for its collaborative work with the Washington Humane Society, which he feels is an extremely important community service.

The hospital has created a "Friendship Fund" to benefit the local humane society. He says the fund will match dollar for dollar donations from clients to the humane society, up to $50,000 a year. The hospital also provides the Washington Humane Society with reduced-cost veterinary services.

Glassman readily admits the practice has changed a lot since he purchased it. But the constant has been the guiding principles focused on providing high quality patient care as taught to him by his mentor and former practice owner Dr. Harvey Cowan.

From the roots up

In 1936, Dr. Bill Ready founded the practice. In 1948, Cowan joined the practice as a partner, where he remained very involved until his retirement in 1983. Cowan died this year, but Glassman says he left a lasting legacy.

"I remember Harvey as a friend, mentor and really great boss," he says. "He taught me a lot."

Glassman adds that when he joined the practice in 1978, it was already a premiere and progressive small animal practice.

He adopted and worked with Cowan's vision to help the practice evolve.

Now that's friendship.

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