Mission to Mars: What we can learn from the recent VCA acquisition


The flurry of red-faced emojis in the wake of this announcement fails to reflect what the Martians can teach the rest of us on this veterinary planet.

Shutterstock.comOn Jan. 9, Mars announced the acquisition of VCA for $9.1 billion, and veterinary social media feeds across the land filled up with frowning and red-faced emojis. It's misplaced energy.

It reminds me of the time when I met with a state veterinary medical association leader who scoffed at the legitimacy of Banfield. “You can't compare what we do with what they do,” he sneered.

You mean like having a vision, a clear plan on how to achieve it, respect for management and managers, organization, a strong oversight of metrics, up-to-date marketing endeavors-you mean stuff like that?

Mars, VCA and many other corporately structured veterinary practices do a lot of things right when it comes to patients, clients and the business of veterinary medicine. We would do well to read a page or two out of their management books. It might give us some insight into how we too can achieve the same success.

Sonnya Dennis, DVM, DABVP, is president of the not-for-profit Association of Veterinary Informatics. Dennis has been working tirelessly for more than 15 years to get veterinarians to embrace one way of coding all veterinary treatments and diagnostics.

“Think of the power!” she exclaims. “As a profession we would control the most extensive amount of companion animal information in the world. Not only could we understand disease better and learn how to better treat it, but we could lead the conversation in pharmaceutical research and development. We could predict disease outbreaks and allocate our human and financial resources better. As it stands now, veterinary corporations and large practice groups are the only ones seizing this great opportunity.”

The American Animal Hospital Association, with its standards for accreditation, has organized one of the most extensive lists of best business and medical veterinary protocols ever created, yet a mere 15 percent of veterinary practices in America even bother to click on the web link.

So this message is to every red-faced and blustering emoji out there. There's only one thing standing between you and everything that Mars, VCA and the other large corporations have achieved: you. As Dr. Leonard Berry, author of Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic, told me in a recent phone conversation, “Veterinary business owners have a lot to learn from the Mayo brothers and the journey that they took to create one of the greatest health care institutions in the world. They started out as a small private practice in the middle of rural Minnesota, but they had a vision and they valued the benefits of planning and implementation. Any veterinary practice owner set on achieving what the Mayo brothers achieved should sit down with a blank sheet of paper and ask themselves, ‘If I could implement one work process to help me better achieve my vision of great care, what would it be?'”

Let's not launch into 2017 with more hand-wringing over big, bad corporate medicine. Participate in forums and other virtual and face-to-face conversations with colleagues, and peruse the free and uncountable resources available to practice owners through AAHA and dvm360

I dreaded a trip to Mars. I expected red desert; I expected breathless air. Instead I got Martian vets, caring and inspired; I got Martian technicians with training and upward mobility-a planet where leaders help teamwork happen. As far as I'm concerned, Mars is terrific, and if you don't believe me, wait till you see how many dogs and cats start using NASA to book their travel plans.

Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, is a partner with Halow Tassava Consulting, a frequent speaker at the CVC conferences and a regular contributor to dvm360.com and Firstline magazine. See bashhalow.com.

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