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Is Data Driving Your Practice?

Posted By Christine Shupe, Thursday, April 27, 2017

Veterinary managers interested in improving the practice’s bottom line have put data in the driver’s seat. Data can provide a wealth of information about new clients, client opinions, return visits and more. All of this information can be used to run a practice more effectively.


VHMA’s March 2017 Insider’s Insight survey focused on tracking clients and data collection---specifically, how information is collected and the ways in which practices are using the information. The survey was completed by 227 respondents.


To track or not to track


There are many reasons to track clients, including: to determine whether marketing efforts are working, to gauge client loyalty and to receive feedback. Among survey respondents, the majority are most likely to capture information about new clients at monthly intervals.

Approximately 49 percent of the respondents keep tabs on deceased patients and 51 percent do not track or collect this information. Fifty-seven percent also do not follow reactivated patients, but 65 percent do engage and monitor inactive patients.


Inactive v. former


When asked to define “inactive,” respondents do not agree on a universal definition. Forty-one percent say that a patient/client who has not had a transaction with the practice in 18 months is considered inactive. Another 40 percent identify the period of time without contact as 24 months. Write-in responses reveal that 15 percent agree that patients/clients who go without practice contact for 36 months should are considered inactive.


Keeping tabs on patients who have not returned to the practice for preventive care can be time consuming, but 67 percent report that they use some type of practice software to generate reports that makes the task manageable. Once the inactive clients are identified, most practices use phone or email messages to encourage them to schedule a visit. The message, very often, is an appeal to the client about the importance of preventive pet care. Practices also use empathy and concern about the pet’s health to motivate clients to schedule a visit.

Practices also use strategies such as product promotions (32 percent) and discounts (21 percent) to get clients back in the office.


Fifty-nine percent apply subtle pressure on clients to return. They reach out once…possibly twice and then disengage. Thirty-four percent are more persistent and will reach out three or four times. Very few (five percent) exceed five attempts.


Seven percent do not record information about inactive patients or those who have not maintained a preventive care schedule and therefore have not introduced outreach effort to persuade them to return to the practice.

Most practices (73 percent) do not have a formal reengagement program. Of the respondent who have implemented these programs, Demand Force and Vet Success were listed most often.


Of the 48 respondents with a re-engagement program, 40 percent saw a patient return of between one and three percent and 22 percent reported a four to five percent patient return. Respondents speculated that there are three primary reasons that patients do not return: the patient moved out of the area (70 percent), the client has a concern about the cost of care (57 percent) or the pet passed away (43 percent).


To ensure the practice is receiving feedback from clients about the patient experience, half of the respondents survey clients after every visit and 21 percent survey clients about select topics. Sixteen percent never survey.


Data collection and analysis can yield essential information that can have an impact on a practice’s success.

However, for the information to be effective, it should be the catalyst for outlining strategies, taking action and changing the status quo.



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To Raise or Not to Raise, That Was the Question

Posted By Christine Shupe, Thursday, March 16, 2017

VHMA kicks off 2017 with an Insiders' Insight survey that inquired about practices’ plans to raise fees in the coming months.


The results reveal that clients will be paying more for services. Based on responses from 247 practice management professionals, 77% reported they are raising fees---30% on non-shopped services and 47% on both shopped and non-shopped services. Ten percent plan to keep fees as is and 10% report they will raise some and lower other.


Compared to a 2016 VHMA fee increase survey, slightly fewer respondents plan to raise fees on non-shopped services in 2017 (30% in 2017 compared to 36% in 2016) and about the same percentage planned to increase both shopped and non-shopped service fees (47% in 2017 and 46% in 2016).


Of the respondents increasing fees on shopped services, the greatest concentration of respondents (35%) planned a 3% increase, followed by 21% who favored a 5% increase. These findings are consistent with 2016 results: 30% reported a 3% increase and 22% were considering a 5% increase.


Close to half (49%) of 2017 respondents would like to raise non-shopped service fees between 4-6%. Thirty-nine percent reported a 1-3% increase. Four percent indicated that the practice is considering a 10% or greater increase.


History repeats itself. In 2016, 50% said they would raise non-shopped fees between 4-6% and 39% between 1-3%.


Are respondents concerned that clients are growing more concerned about service fee increases? Apparently not. Seventy-two percent said that their clients are about as concerned about price increases as they have been in the past. Fourteen percent believe that clients are more concerned about price increases and 6% feel their clients are less concerned.


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Crunching the Numbers

Posted By Christine Shupe, Monday, February 27, 2017

When you own a veterinary practice, handling the practice finances may be the most significant and perhaps the most perplexing responsibility. Ensuring that records are up-to-date and preparing and completing required financial forms are essential, but can the practice afford a full-time bookkeeper? VHMA tackled this issue in a recent Insiders’ Insight survey and respondents were asked about who handled the practice’s bookkeeping and accounting. The survey was completed by 404 practice managers.


The bookkeeper is in the house (or not)!


Managers responded to the age-old question: Is the practice’s bookkeeper and “innie” or an “outie.” Overwhelmingly (77%), respondents reported that bookkeeping is handled in-house. However, of those respondents, fewer than half (42%), said the bookkeeper had been formally trained!


Most practices use the services of an accountant to supplement the work of the bookkeeper. The frequency of accountant interactions ranged from “as needed” to weekly. Thirty-three percent reported that the practice uses accounting services monthly. A mere 2% reported that the practice NEVER uses accounting services.


That thing that you do


So, why do practices hire accountants? Sixteen percent said that the accountant is hired to handle taxes only. It is more common for accountants to provide a range of services, the most popular being review, followed by tax preparation, financial consultation and audits.


Respondents were asked to indicate whether the practice use the industry standard Chart of Accounts. Sixty-four percent reported that they do and 23% do not. Of those using the COA, 55% report it is sourced with the AAHA and 12% describe the source as modified AAHA. Other sourcing responses include: my accountant (34%), Quickbooks (16%) and previous owner (3%).


Effectively handling financial aspects of a practice is best left to qualified professionals who operate under a system of checks and balances. Although bookkeepers do not require degrees or licenses, the more training and credentials one has, the better for the practice. A properly trained bookkeeper and a relationship with an accountant will go a long way to enhance a practice’s financial standing.


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Client Loyalty: Are You Feeling Their Love?

Posted By Christine Shupe, Monday, January 30, 2017

Here’s something to consider: Some experts maintain that it costs between four and ten times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Some suggest that it costs 30 times more to attract a new client than it does to retain an existing one.


And, while experts may not agree on the costs of attracting new clients, they agree that nurturing client loyalty makes good business sense.


In that spirit, VHMA asked survey respondents about their strategy for nurturing client loyalty.  Do they ramp up the bells and whistles or is it simply enough to offer courteous, respectful and quality care?


The survey, which was completed by 107 veterinary professionals, did not define client loyalty, but rather, asked respondents to describe how their clients demonstrate loyalty.  Approximately half of the respondents described loyal clients as those who comply with the recommendations and treatment proposed by staff.


Approximately 25 percent believe that clients who refer friends and family to the practice are demonstrating loyalty. Respondents also consider clients who are “brand loyal” and use a practice’s services exclusively to be loyal.


More than 50 percent of respondents stated that between 51 and 75 percent of their clients are loyal.


Asked to isolate the attributes most likely to influence a client’s loyalty to a practice, respondents identified trust in the veterinarian and clinic staff (33 percent), caring and attentive customer service (24 percent) and having established a personal connection with a staff member (21 percent).


How do practices know how many clients are leaving and how many remain loyal? Slightly more than 50 percent track attrition. Forty-four percent do not and five percent do not know.


Of those practices tracking attrition, 34 percent track monthly, 28 percent do it quarterly and 21 percent annually. Less than 50 percent of practices tracking attrition contact clients who do not return.


Respondents did speculate about the reason clients do not return and 38 percent attributed it to the cost of care. Others cited disappointing customer service (19 percent), inconvenient location (15 percent) and a small number blamed hours, trust, quality of care, wait time for appointments and continuity of care.


Client loyalty can make or break a business. Getting clients in the door is a first step but long term success is dependent on return customers. Our survey respondents value loyalty, but creating loyalty requires effort. Sometimes a client immediately clicks with a practice and returns again and again. It is more difficult to follow-up with those who have not returned and ask them about their experiences with the practice. Practices that track, follow-up and consider client evaluations are more likely to have a strong following.


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2016 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year Announced

Posted By Christine Shupe, Friday, December 9, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The VHMA and committed to helping practice managers grow and flourish in their careers---recently announced that Judi Bailey, CVPM, is the 2016 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year. The award celebrates practice managers who are the backbone of financially sound, well-led and inspired veterinary hospitals and practices.


The program application process opened in early 2016 and 10 finalists were identified in the spring. Each finalist had expertly incorporated the skills and knowledge that are hallmarks of effective practice management into their toolset and applied them to lead, collaborate, problem solve, innovate and motivate. Given the high level of skill and expertise shown by the finalists, selecting one award recipient was challenging.


Judi, a hospital administrator at Loving Hands Animal Clinic, Alpharetta, Georgia, did an outstanding job of detailing her experience and demonstrated strong leadership, decision-making, team and management skills. She also established her commitment to lifelong learning and a proven ability to adapt to change.


Highlights of Judi’s accomplishments follow.


Leadership and Decision-Making

Shortly after joining Loving Hands as a Practice Manager, Judi recognized the need to convert to a paperless system. The hospital was more than 10,000 square feet and the amount of time needed to hunt down medical records was incredibly inefficient. Years earlier, Judi had successfully helped her emergency practice convert to paperless. Prior to Judi’s arrival at Loving Hands, the owner had tried unsuccessfully to go paperless. Judi did however receive the owner’s approval to move forward.


She began by researching software options and considering cost, training, yearly support fees and the cost to make the shift.  Working through the financial details was not half as challenging as convincing staff of the merits of the new system.


Initially the decision to go paperless launched an onslaught of concerns, questions, fears and hostility. Despite the owners early backing of the project, she waivered when staff expressed concern. Grumbling among staff continued for several weeks and Judi finally scheduled a staff meeting to halt the spread of gossip and allow the team to voice to speak openly about their reservations.


At times Judi questioned her decision to usher in change, but stayed strong and committed to her decision. She communicated with staff and explained the importance of adapting to change and its impact on moving the practice forward. She also outlined her plan and involved the team in developing new protocols.


Her efforts helped to establish a modern, more efficient, much more cost effective means of managing patients. The team saw that Judi was committed to her decision and did not back down when challenged.


Team Motivation and Management


Judi stepped into her position and was leading a team that was unmotivated and in some cases hostile to events that occurred prior to her arrival. The damage was so deep that the team was betting on how long Judi would last. Undeterred, Judi drew on her experience and addressed the issue immediately in a team meeting, as well as individually. Her goal was to listen and help the practice carry out its vision by adhering to the practice’s core values and mission.


She identified expectations for each staff member and introduced an open door policy to voice concerns. She made it clear that she expected employees to adhere to policies and procedures and that she would not tolerate insubordination.


Unfortunately, it was necessary to “liberate" several employees who were causing discontent and disharmony among the team. A candid discussion with the owner about how her actions were negatively affecting the clinic’s culture was necessary, but difficult, and led to an agreement that put Judi in charge of hiring and firing and the owner returned to practicing veterinary medicine. Judi was committed to hiring kind, friendly, motivated and trainable staff whose personalities contributed to a more positive clinic culture.


With Judi managing, the clinic weathered employee turnover and assembled a happy and functional team. In a matter of just a few months, the atmosphere changed for the better. Judi continues to encourage staff, including the doctors and the owner, to strive for excellence and use all of the tools and resources available to become better people and better at their jobs.


Judi is committed to bettering herself both professionally and personally and encourages employees to be the best they can be.


Lifelong Learning


Judi is a long-time member of VHMA, AAHA and SHRM. She earned the CVPM (Certified Veterinary Practice Manager) credential in 2014. She is an advocate of continuing education and, along with her owner, budgets to allow continuing education for the entire clinic team.


She is passionate about sharing her knowledge with others. A decade ago, she founded and served as president of the Georgia Veterinary Managers Association (GAVMA). She submits articles to industry newsletters and is a strong believer in conference education.


Adapting to Change


Change is a constant challenge in Judi’s clinic. Recently, the number of new clients declined due to the opening of two area clinics and Judi strategized to turn the trend around.


To address this issue she outlined two strategies with the reluctant support of the owner. First, she reintroduced the free initial examination for new clients. Second, to ensure high compliance for routine care with existing clients, she introduced the Community Wellness Clinic, a four-hour block in the morning of the slowest revenue day, which entitled clients who purchased a wellness examination to a 50%discount on vaccines.


The promotions were rolled out with email blasts to existing clients, promoted during past due callbacks and announced on reminder cards. Judi also created a protocol and trained doctors and staff on how to make it work. Five weeks after the plan was implemented appointments were completely booked two weeks out, revenues jumped 68 percent on the slowest day of the week, clients were appreciative of the discount and compliance from past-due patients increased by 38 percent.


Judi recommends examining hospital numbers and trends to identify ideas that will not compromise a clinic’s culture, vision and mission, but will entice clients and potential clients.


VHMA’s Executive Director Christine Shupe congratulated Judi on her award and said, “I am super excited that this year’s Practice Manager of the Year Award goes to Judi Bailey, CVPM. As a certified CVPM manager, she helps to raise the standard for management professionals in the industry. As a long-time active VHMA member she is paving the way for the next generation of manager to continue to provide exceptional leadership in practice.”



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