March 01, 2008


 Veterinary leaders synergize at AVMA conference

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House of Delegates' first regular winter session convenes during event
Posted Feb. 15, 2008

Leaders from AVMA principal veterinary organizations in the states and Puerto Rico as well as from Canada, Mexico, and many AVMA constituent allied veterinary organizations came together once again in January for leadership development, decision making, strategizing, and networking.

The 2008 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Jan. 11-13, drew 470 leaders, topping last year's record attendance by 50. In recent years, Chicago has hosted the event, but this year's venue at a new hotel and convention center in Schaumburg, Ill., made nearby AVMA headquarters a popular tour destination.

The conference offered two concurrent agendas—leadership development workshops and the AVMA House of Delegates' first regular winter session (see article).

General sessions, open to all attendees, featured reports about relevant issues and legislation along with noteworthy programs and developments.  

Full disclosure

Disclosure of medical errors was the topic of the opening speaker, Kathleen Bonvicini, EdD, associate director of the Institute for Healthcare Communication. 

Dr. Bonvicini said being open and honest with clients about medical errors can help rebuild trust, preserve professional integrity, and reduce malpractice lawsuits.

"It's how they're treated that's going to get them to file a complaint or badmouth your practice," Dr. Bonvicini said.

Yet, a 2004 survey of recent veterinary graduates in the United Kingdom found that while 78 percent reported making a medical error resulting in an adverse outcome, 40 percent had not discussed the error with the client.

Dr. Bonvicini said barriers to disclosing a medical error can include uncertainty over the cause, a professional culture in which veterinarians feel shame for being fallible, a lack of training in communication skills, and a variety of other fears—including the fear of adding to the client's distress.

Dr. Bonvicini said the client wants to know what happened, though. The TEAM model is one approach to the disclosure discussion, she said. The model calls for veterinarians to be truthful, acknowledging error and harm. They should empathize with the client's experience. The model calls for veterinarians to apologize and express regret. Finally, they should manage through to resolution.

"A lot of times, we base our framework on the worst possible situation, the worst possible client," Dr. Bonvicini cautioned.

Dr. Bonvicini adapted the presentation from one of 12 educational modules that the Institute for Healthcare Communication developed with a grant from Bayer Animal Health to train veterinarians in communication skills. Thirty veterinary colleges are participating in the BAH Communication Project.

The AVMA PLIT, a trust that provides professional liability insurance and other insurance programs, has begun collaborating with the IHC to adapt all the educational modules for veterinary meetings.

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NCVEI leadership  

Dr. Ralph Richardson, chairman of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, spoke briefly after Dr. Bonvicini. He recognized the contributions of the NCVEI's founding chief executive officer, Howard Rubin, who departed in November, and the commission's first chairman, Dr. James E. Nave, whose term ended this past July. 

The NCVEI board elected Dr. Richardson as chairman in October. Dr. Richardson has been dean of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine since 1998. A diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, he taught previously at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, where he was head of veterinary clinical sciences for more than a decade. He also served as a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps after graduating from KSU in 1970.

At press time, the NCVEI was seeking a new CEO.  

A theatrical introduction

The weekend session began with a skit by a comedy troupe from The Second City introducing a new veterinary-industry alliance—the Alliance for Healthier Pets—Obesity Awareness and Prevention Program. 

The AVMA and Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. have formed the alliance to help veterinarians and their staff educate clients about the health implications of obesity in cats and dogs.

AVMA VLC photoNeal Thompson, president of the Americas for Hill's Pet Nutrition, said, "We want to provide you with the tools needed to achieve weight management success." Today, he said, 35 percent of adult pets and 50 percent of pets over age 7 are overweight.

The skit portrayed the dynamics between a family and their veterinarian in recognizing and coming to terms with pet obesity, and the initial reluctance some veterinarians and veterinary staff may have in raising the issue with their clients.

The alliance was officially launched Jan. 20 at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. (see JAVMA, Feb. 1, 2008).  


From the AVMA

AVMA President Gregory S. Hammer presented AVMA highlights from 2007. "Our relationships are growing strong, and I'd like to see that continue. In August, Dr. Ron DeHaven took the reins as the AVMA's executive vice president," he noted, also recognizing executive staff who were hired or promoted, and staff who retired. 

Turning to the AVMA Strategic Plan, Dr. Hammer noted that last year, the Executive Board approved a strategic goal for each of the five previously adopted AVMA critical issues—advocacy, veterinary workforce, education, animal welfare, and economic viability. The strategic plan is still under development, he said, but the leadership and staff have already been working toward objectives under each goal.

"Times are changing and barriers exist that can keep our Association from adapting and growing," Dr. Hammer said. "Keeping the ultimate goals in sight, we must break through those barriers to achieve them."

Dr. Bret D. Marsh led off his AVMA treasurer's report by saying, "2007 was a good year for us fiscally, and membership in particular continued to grow; our membership now exceeds 76,000 people around the country—over 85 percent of the eligible veterinarians in the country belong to the AVMA. Dues income from those members represents approximately 60 percent of the annual income to the AVMA, and it topped $16 million last year."

The treasurer listed some of the AVMA's other income sources, among them, investment earnings, which he said exceeded budget projections and totaled more than $1.8 million.

"Although the year-end figures are not all in and we're still subject to an audit of those books, we expect income over expenses for the year 2007 to exceed $1.5 million—all in all, a good year for the AVMA," Dr. Marsh said.

For 2008, he noted that the annual budget is $28.8 million and projects $118,400 in income over expenses.

An update from the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust was presented by Dr. Gary Holfinger, chair of the GHLIT board of trustees. Effective Dec. 1, the GHLIT switched the network provider from First Health to Aetna Signature Administrators. "With ASA, 99.4 percent of our members—from Fairbanks, Alaska, down to Key West—will have accessibility to that network," Dr. Holfinger said. "We also found that, based on our claims history, 87 percent of our insureds would not have to change physicians."

Why was the network provider changed? He said, "The answer is very simple—our projected savings are about a million dollars every month, and a million dollars goes right to the bottom line to help our insureds offset (coverage expenses) for the rising cost of health insurance."

Dr. Holfinger added that as of Jan. 1, ASA expanded its network to include the Mayo Clinic Rochester and Mayo Health System.

Addressing the leadership conference as AVMA executive vice president for the first time, Dr. Ron DeHaven extended his thanks to Dr. Hammer for his friendship since the new CEO joined the AVMA staff and for "his unending energy on behalf of the AVMA."

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Dr. Kurt J. Matushek, AVMA associate editor, shows visitors around the AVMA Publications Division.
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Steve Gilliland, closing speaker for the conference, helps attendees discover "the Magic and Power of WE."
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An attendee learns more about the new Alliance for Healthier Pets—Obesity Awareness and Prevention Program from the AVMA and Hill's Pet Nutrition.

Adding to Dr. Hammer's comments on the AVMA Strategic Plan, Dr. DeHaven reported that as the Executive Board suggested, he has appointed a manager from staff for each of the five strategic goals. He explained that not only are there specific objectives for each goal but also tactics for each objective. "The tactics are on-the-ground activities that will help achieve the objectives," he said, giving some examples.

Dr. DeHaven noted that in November, these objectives and tactics were presented informally to the board, which endorsed the direction staff was taking with them. In April, Dr. DeHaven and staff will come back to the board with a detailed implementation plan for approval.

Another general session speaker was Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division, who discussed developments with the GRD, Congress, and the AVMA Political Action Committee.

Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the Animal Welfare Division, presented an interesting approach toward understanding how diverse stakeholders perceive the same welfare issue. She described three housing systems for laying hens and challenged attendees to ask themselves which system they would choose, and why. "Everyone's choice is going to be influenced by values and experiences," she said. She went on to describe the various frames of reference and their origins, using veterinarians in multiple types of practices, other scientists, businesses, the public, and public officials as examples.

The only declared candidate for AVMA president-elect, Dr. Larry M. Corry, and for vice president, Dr. Gary Brown, gave short addresses relating some of their priorities and asking delegates to vote for them at the House of Delegates session this July in New Orleans.

Closing day speaker Steve Gilliland talked about "Discovering the magic and power of WE." It involves four things, he said—purpose, passion, potential, and people.

"But the first thing you have to do is find your voice, because you will always lead from the essence of who you are as a person," he said. "If I said to you 'name five people that have impacted your life the most,' who would you name? What did they give you?" Would you make someone else's list?

Managing things isn't the same as leading people, Gilliland said—being a leader is about serving. "You'll know you've arrived as a leader when people follow you because they want to, not because they believe they have to."