The VHMA Files: Got an idea? Run with it!

Article

On the road to veterinary practice improvement, carefully crafted solutions that involve the team win the race.

Are you ready to step up at your practice? The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) recognizes excellence and innovation among veterinary hospital managers through success stories that inspire others to reach further. Consider Nancy Hay, CVPM, RVT, a practice manager with a veterinary hospital in North Ogden, Utah. She recently devised and implemented a strategy for addressing a decline in patient visits at her veterinary practice. Read on to find out what she learned in the process.

The back story

Nancy was hired as a practice manager when the economy was growing and the hospital's client base was strong. As economic conditions deteriorated, she noticed client visits declined. To improve the health of patients and increase client visits, Nancy and her colleagues outlined a strategy to get clients to commit to preventive care. Within a few months, the hospital made significant strides toward successfully implementing this plan.

Overcome hurdles

Nancy has worked since 2005 at the full-service hospital, which provides preventive, urgent and emergency care. In recent years, the number of gravely ill pets arriving at the hospital had increased dramatically. She attributed this to the economy: Clients were deferring preventive and routine care because they couldn't afford it. Her goal was to identify strategies to encourage patients to commit to preventive pet care by introducing wellness plans.

Wellness plans at veterinary practices are sometimes administered by companies, but Nancy suggested offering plans with three distinct levels of care that would be provided through the hospital. Each plan allowed a predetermined menu of annual medical services as well as installment payment options.

Nancy encouraged the team to promote the plans. Team members received training and incentives. As an example, for each pet they sign up, team members are offered $20, which is added to a team fund and divided among team members. Clients received incentives, too, such as half priced initial memberships for additional pets in the same household as well as coupons for discounted visits to pass along to new clients.

Nancy is quick to credit her team members for their role in making the plans a success. Veterinarians and team members must believe in a program to work as a team and meet goals.

A win-win situation

Nancy's efforts benefited the hospital, patients and clients. In the process, she learned valuable professional lessons:

> Look for problems, but craft solutions. Disturbed by the number of critically ill patients, Nancy acted on her concerns.

> Don't be deterred by problems that appear overwhelming. Nancy knew the problems she was seeing were due to factors outside her control. Although she couldn't fix the economy, she could still make a difference.

> Focus on rewarding good work. Nancy is a firm believer in incentives to inspire colleagues. She also believes in offering incentives to clients whose efforts improve the practice's well-being.

> Involve the team. Nancy credits team members for their willingness to contribute to the success of the new initiative.

> Let your creativity flow. Nancy was on the right track when she proposed the wellness plans, but for the plans to help patients and the business, she needed to spread the word. With a tight budget, she relied on creative marketing. This included grassroots advertising through community groups, rewards and incentives and mentions on the practice's website.

> When the rules change, change your plan. Nancy understood that the rules of veterinary medicine were changing. Rather than play by the old rules, she had to come up with a game plan that was responsive to the new reality.

> Don't allow challenges to halt progress. Nancy admits that at times the design work to develop the plans was mind-numbing, but the final monthly payment plans had a positive effect on the practice's viability. The wellness plans were first offered in January 2012. During the first year, gross sales increased by 5.4 percent. Wellness plans accounted for 4.6 percent of income.

Are you ready to join the race? The first step is to gain acceptance for your idea. Visit dvm360.com/VHMA for tips to get off the starting line.

Christine Shupe is executive director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. The association is dedicated to serving professionals in veterinary management through education, certification and networking.

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