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Pet owner survey provides inspiration for veterinary practice business plan


Taking cues from the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, one veterinarian has built a practice that's centered on pet owner needs.

Ask any veterinarian who’s started his or her own practice and they’ll tell you it’s a daunting task. From finding a space to lease—or land for a new building—to hiring the right staff, there’s a lot to consider before you even get clients in the door. And while there’s no magic formula for building a successful practice that fits everyone’s needs, there are definitely sources of ideas and inspiration to be found when you’re starting from scratch. For Dr. Eric Ruhland, owner of St. Paul Pet Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., that inspiration came from the results of the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study.

Like many young associate veterinarians, Dr. Ruhland had been working for a busy, multi-doctor practice when the time finally came to branch out on his own. And it was around that time that the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study results were published in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Read our comprehensive coverage of the study results).

“I read through the study to see what the future of veterinary medicine might look like,” says Dr. Ruhland. “I wanted to get a feel for where we’ll be, based on trends right now, before I started my own practice.”

But Dr. Ruhland got more than just a feel for the future of veterinary medicine when he read through the study results—he got a business plan.

Emphasizing value in the exam

Dr. Ruhland recognized the importance of distinguishing himself and his new practice from the competition—even before he opened his doors. And because the Bayer study was designed to identify factors for the recent drop in patient visits across the country—as well as pinpoint specific actions that companion animal practitioners could take to encourage more visits in their practices—he thought this would be a great place to start.

“I took the information from the study, summarized the takeaway points and implemented it into a business plan,” Dr. Ruhland says.

One of the biggest findings in the study results was that pet owners didn’t understand the need for—or value of—routine wellness examinations. And Dr. Ruhland intended to change that.

“People are immediately apprehensive about the office visit fee when they bring their pets in,” Dr. Ruhland says. “There’s been a devaluation of the physical exam.”

In order to highlight the value of that service and get clients past the fee, Dr. Ruhland enlists the help of an assistant to transcribe his physical exam findings, so he can speak freely about them throughout the entire process. At the end of the exam, he explains everything in greater detail to the client.

“Our appointment times might be longer, but our clients walk out of the exam room impressed and know it was worth it—they saw the value in the exam and they learned something,” he says.

Appealing to clients’ needs

Emphasizing the importance of the physical examination wasn’t the only thing on Dr. Ruhland’s business agenda. He also wanted to make a trip to the veterinarian more convenient—and potentially more cost-effective—for his clients.

Dr. Ruhland and his practice manager knew they wanted to implement wellness plans into their practice services, but they wanted to do it right. “We stripped away the items we thought would be a bother to clients and customized our own plan,” he says.

As a result, their practice sees a high rate of wellness plan enrollment—and more clients to coming in for their pet’s annual wellness visits. Additionally, Dr. Ruhland has implemented in-home as well as pick-up and drop-off services, extended hospital hours and feline-friendly features in his practice, all in an effort to appeal to the needs of his clients—and make their experience a convenient and enjoyable one.

“Clients can get good veterinary care anywhere,” Dr. Ruhland says. "It's the manner in which that care is delivered and presented to the clients that matters most to us."

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