Dealing with a recession (Sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)

You can overcome the challenges that accompany an economic downturn


Image: Getty Images
R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N—it's a dirty, nine-letter word that strikes fear in equine practitioners' hearts. Sure, we have all been affected by the current economic downturn, but that doesn't mean we have to sit frozen like deer in the headlights until the economy rights itself. In these challenging economic times, it is important that equine veterinarians be creative—not complacent—with respect to boosting their bottom lines. Just as a proactive, multimodal approach is often needed to treat certain diseases, the following is a nine-step treatment plan for what might be ailing your practice.

Reassess your fee schedule

Do you reevaluate your fees more than once a year? Even if you do, how do you know you're setting them appropriately? Do your fees meet consumer need and compete with other area practices?

To evaluate your fees at the beginning of each quarter, determine which services earn the most profit and which seem to be least profitable, then compare your fees with the local competition. The National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues ( http://www.NCVEI.org/) is a great resource to compare your fees for standard services with national, regional, and local averages. Second, don't forget to charge appropriately for your intangible skills. Some equine vets are limited in the number of appointments they can schedule in a day. But equine practitioners across the board should charge for the analytical skills we provide, not just hands-on physical exams or diagnostics. The ability to apply our knowledge and solve problems is really what our clients should be paying for.

Educate your clients


Nurture the vet-client bond
How many times have you been asked, "So how long was vet school, two years?" Many clients just don't understand the rigors of your training. And, if they do, they may not fully understand exactly why you are making certain medical recommendations. You want to spend time addressing your clients' questions and concerns, but there are more efficient ways of accomplishing this goal without taking too much time out of your day. Create a client brochure of FAQs or informative handouts explaining common equine diseases. You can also offer monthly client educational events, and if you don't already have a website for your practice, create one. A well-designed, professional looking website can serve as an invaluable educational resource for clients. After all, they're probably already searching the web for information, which too often is inaccurate or just plain wrong.

Communicate

Effective communication with your clients is crucial to good patient care and essential for compliance—which affects your bottom line. When owners understand why you make certain recommendations and how those recommendations will directly benefit their horse, they will be much more compliant. If the owner is not present at the time of your visit, follow up with him or her by the end of the day. Make time to communicate with them by phone or via e-mail—whichever form of communication works best for them. Develop communication protocols for your practice and be sure to include:

  • Ways to promote client understanding of and compliance with your medical recommendations and after-care regimen. Show your team how to do a communications check-up with clients to ensure they understand what you are trying to convey.
  • Supplement oral communications with visual aids and written instructions.
  • Reduce misunderstandings with consent forms, accurate fee estimates, and medical handouts.
  • Document oral and written communication in patient records.
  • Encourage medical questions and respond in plain English.
  • Ask clients to fill out customer satisfaction surveys. The best way to know whether or not your clients are satisfied is to ask them. A satisfied client creates more business by recommending your services to others.