New equipment boosts more than the bottom line


The measure of a machine isn't just what shows up on a cost-benefit analysis.

When we read articles in this journal and others about sound financial strategies, we're encouraged to analyze whether a new equipment purchase will pay off. We're told to look at the price of the unit, the anticipated frequency of use, and the costs to maintain and operate it. There are "hidden" costs as well—everything from supplies and taxes to a client's disappointment when the new equipment reveals a gloomy prognosis. But what about the hidden benefits? We shouldn't forget them, either.

Dawn Koetting, DVM

Case in point

Let's take a look at an ultrasound machine, for example. For a practice like mine, an ultrasound unit makes sense, even if it doesn't always generate as much revenue as I would like. Our five-doctor, semi-rural, mixed-animal practice is 90 minutes away from a referral hospital. We use our ultrasound unit for the same reason that most practices do: cardiac and abdominal examinations. But that's not where it really shines.

The high point for us is when the machine convinces clients and reinforces our message in a way nothing else can. We bring the client into the procedure room and show the client the pet's problem, pointing out the need for further diagnostics and treatment. Clients grasp a medical issue better when they can see it—especially in real time—and there's an enormous list of diseases or problems that we can address this way. Pyometra, cystic calculi, prostatic cysts, pleural effusion, cardiac tamponade, cardiomyopathies, abdominal effusions, splenic tumors, bladder tumors—these are just a few of the things we can show a client quickly when we use an ultrasound. Aside from calculi, most of these things are hard for clients to appreciate on a radiograph. But with a quick ultrasound exam, we get the OK to proceed.

These brief ultrasound exams (which we charge for) save us the time we would spend explaining the problem and justifying our treatment recommendations to clients. And time is money. Of course, there are other medical benefits too, such as improving diagnostic accuracy and ruling out various problems. These pluses don't always show up in your equipment cost analysis, but they're there.

Equipment attracts clients and talent

Ultrasound machines don't just sell procedures, they also sell the practice. When we got ours, word-of-mouth traveled fast, and new clients sought out this technology because they were used to seeing it in human medicine. And the units attract associate veterinarians, too. Sure, we have two ABVP diplomates on staff and a pretty nice 7,000-square-foot facility, but having an ultrasound unit and giving new graduates free rein to use it has snagged us associates in a market where several area practices have been unsuccessful. New graduates used the best available technology in school. We can afford some of the same.

While we certainly need to recoup costs and receive a return on investment, we also need to remember to calculate the total impact a piece of equipment will have on our practice. It's not just how often we can use it, but how much fun—read: burnout prevention—it can provide and the fact that it makes life easier for us, our teams, our clients, and our patients.

Dr. Dawn Koetting is co-owner of Ridgefield Animal Hospital in Thibodaux, La. Send questions or comments to

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