Needling patients could be good for you


Acupuncture can be a great source of revenue for your practice.

Being on pins and needles used to mean anxiety. But for many veterinarians and their patients, needles bring relief. Not only does acupuncture reduce pets' acute and chronic pain, but the needles are good for the bottom line.

Just ask Dr. Robin Downing, a certified veterinary acupuncturist and owner of The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo. Dr. Downing has been practicing acupuncture for nine years and swears by its efficacy. Here's what she finds out about potential patients-tests are needed before performing the procedure-and how the financial numbers break down at her clinic.

Before we begin

Before considering a patient for acupuncture, Dr. Downing conducts a complete physical examination-which includes checking for pain and neurologic problems-and takes a complete patient history. Lab analysis prior to acupuncture includes a complete blood count, blood chemistry, and, if appropriate, a thyroid evaluation.

If the lab analysis shows an underlying disease, Dr. Downing says she first works on that. She manages the patient's disease with traditional therapies like surgery or changes in diet and medication before she continues on to treatment with acupuncture.

Acutely aware of the numbers

Dr. Downing first meets with patient and client for a pain assessment and consultation. The fee is based on time spent: $90, $150, or $200. Most sessions wind up being $150 or $200. The assessment typically includes a review of the patient's medical record, if the pet's been referred from another clinic. That means if Dr. Downing sees two patients a week for 52 weeks a year at $150 each, she brings in $15,600. Acupuncture sessions themselves cost $75 each, and she bundles five for a 10 percent discount to encourage client compliance. Typically, patients come in twice a week for a few weeks, then once every two weeks, and then once every four to six weeks for ongoing comfort care. If she sees eight patients a week for 52 weeks a year at the nonbundled price, she brings in $31,200.

Of course, there are some startup costs involved. Training through Colorado State University costs about $4,400. Training is also available through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and the Chi Institute in Reddick, Fla., where Dr. Downing herself will go for advanced acupuncture classes soon. "The most complete training involves about 150 hours," Dr. Downing says. Supplies run $600 or less a year for needles. So, based on Dr. Downing's experience, if you take $15,600 from pain assessments plus $31,200 for acupuncture sessions and subtract $5,000 for training and supplies, a practice can bring in a first-year gross revenue of $41,800, excluding the revenue from diagnostic testing. "These numbers are quite realistic if you take the time to market the service to existing clients and look for the patients who can benefit," she says.

Dr. Downing thinks acupuncture is more and more entering the mainstream of veterinary medicine. "So much of the focus is toward evidence-based medical acupuncture," she says. "This mirrors the transition in human medicine to more rigorously establish the effects of acupuncture on the body, especially in pain control."

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