AAEP announces changes in governance, priorities

New strategic plan emphasizes timeliness, outreach
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AAEP convention hall
Attendees find their way to the next continuing education session during the 57th annual convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, held Nov. 18-22 in San Antonio, Texas. (Courtesy of the AAEP)

Paying attention to details and analyzing one's practice through the eyes of a client are simple but effective methods for improving client satisfaction and, ultimately, the bottom line.

This was just one of the many pieces of information practitioners, veterinary technicians, and students gleaned from their time at the 57th Annual Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, held Nov. 18-22, 2011, in San Antonio, Texas.

Nearly 6,400 veterinary professionals, guests, and exhibitors attended the meeting, which is up from total attendance of 5,500 in 2010. The meeting included hundreds of continuing education sessions on reproduction, imaging, surgery, and medicine. The annual Kester News Hour touched on the latest in research on these topics. Full bibliographies of the studies cited are available at aaep.org/Kester_2011.htm.

This year's Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture was delivered by Texas A&M professor Dr. Noah D. Cohen (see article). He shared with audience members how lessons derived from epidemiology can help them interpret and use results from clinical research studies in everyday practice.

One recent situation—the outbreak of equine herpesvirus-1 infection in the western U.S. and Canada in spring 2011—demonstrated the value of descriptive epidemiology, Dr. Cohen said.

Observations by one practitioner who saw multiple cases of equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy led to observations and actions by clinician scientists, followed by subsequent activities and requests for information by stakeholders in the U.S. and Canada. All this led to a systematic collection of data in multiple states and reporting of accurate statistics by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to interested parties.

"Until descriptive epidemiological data were systematically collected and disseminated, there was considerable confusion and misrepresentation of facts," Dr. Cohen said. "With the benefits of response and communication of information, I'd say it was a tremendous success, and response led to mitigation of the outbreak."

In all, 90 cases were confirmed in 10 states, and 13 horses had to be euthanized (see JAVMA, July 1, 2011).

Growing concerns

Attendees got a recap of this past year's other notable events and the latest developments from the AAEP during the conference's opening session.

AAEP President John S. Mitchell called 2011 a turbulent year for horse racing. Several groups asked for a ban on performance-enhancing drugs, and legislation also was proposed to that effect.

The association hosted a summit this past July on race-day medication, exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, and the racehorse. And just a few days before the annual conference, AAEP board member Eric Peterson represented the association at a fact-finding meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Race Day Medication Committee on a possible ban on furosemide.

"The AAEP understands furosemide (appears to) compromise the integrity of the sport; at the same time, the health and safety (of the horse) remain our focus," Dr. Mitchell said. "We must find a way to regulate the process so it's good for horses and good for racing. Be assured that we're at the table and advocating for horses and regulation of therapeutic medication."

Another growing concern for the AAEP has been the increase in the number of laypersons performing services and treatments typically considered veterinary medicine. A number of states have changed or are considering changing practice acts that previously put these practices, such as horse teeth floating, under the purview of licensed veterinarians (see JAVMA, March 15, 2011).

Eighty-eight percent of AAEP members surveyed said this is an important issue affecting practice and horse health. The association, in turn, will form a Scope of Practice Task Force to deal with changes to practice acts. Dr. Mitchell said this has been difficult for a national organization such as the AAEP to deal with, because almost all of it is based on individual state laws. The AAEP hopes to get veterinarians to avoid referring clients to nonveterinarians for services and to have them become active in their state VMAs, where most of the lobbying on these measures takes place.

Drs. McCue, Palmer, and Reed during the Kester News Hour
Drs. Patrick M. McCue, Scott E. Palmer, and Stephen M. Reed discuss the latest in equine research during the Kester News Hour. (Courtesy of the AAEP)

New strategic plan

Repositioning the equine veterinarian as the primary care provider for horses is one of the AAEP's three new goals for 2012-2015 that were approved by its board of directors this past July.

"Services that were always seen as veterinary services are not always being delivered by veterinary professionals. The concern is that these individuals don't have the level of training to provide care for the whole horse," Dr. Mitchell said in an interview with JAVMA News. "Plus, practitioners tell us that owners say they can't afford services we think are important, yet they're using a lot of supplements or having their horse visit a psychic."

The association has set up meetings with users of veterinary services, such as owners and trainers, to talk about how they use services now and how veterinarians can increase their value. The AAEP then expects to produce educational materials for members to use when they communicate with clients.

The AAEP will also examine how to improve its continuing education offerings, whether by incorporating emerging technology or touching on new subjects, and institute governance changes as part of its new strategic plan.

The current 20-member board of directors will be reduced to 12, for example, and future board members will be elected by members to at-large positions rather than as geographic representatives. Furthermore, the association expects to reduce the number of standing committees in favor of creating more temporary task forces to respond to issues more quickly.

2011 International Summit on Race Day Medication
AAEP President John S. Mitchell (blue shirt) attends the 2011 International Summit on Race Day Medication in mid-June at Belmont Park, N.Y. (Courtesy of Horsephotos.com/NTRA)

Finally, a new Leadership Development Committee also is in the works. It's being formed to identify, train, and engage younger members and help the board of directors populate task forces and leadership positions with these emerging leaders.

Best business practices

Keynote speaker Dennis Snow talked about service excellence and integrating service-oriented behaviors into the culture of practice. A former executive with The Walt Disney Co., Snow helps people achieve goals related to customer service, leadership, and the like.

He said Disney isn't perfect when it comes to customer service, but the company does have a single objective: When you leave at the end of your vacation, they want you to have one thought in mind—coming back.

"Everything is designed to make that happen. It's about loyalty," Snow said. "You want clients to use your services, more of them, apply your recommendations, and spread the word that you're good."

He continued, "People have options. There are more laypeople doing some of the things you're doing. Medications can be purchased online. There's lots of competition for what you do. When you look at what is the competitive differentiator, it's the clinical expertise but also the relationship you develop with clients."

Practitioners and their staff alike must have a relationship mentality as opposed to a task mentality, Snow said. This allows for a better emotional connection with clients and lets them feel less "processed" and more valued. The first of three key things to build that relationship is looking at everything that happens in the practice through the lens of the client. This means looking at any process you want your practice to get better at and mapping it out step by step, with each step looked at through the client lens. Second, Snow said, is to pay attention to details, because everything speaks. Even something as small as a discarded soda can out front can say something about the practice's physical presence and atmosphere. And finally, create moments of "wow." Whether it's a follow-up call or remembering something personal about a client or patient, it means something.

Clients have built-in expectations of a practice's availability and accuracy, but having a partnership and going there for advice is what can separate a practice from others, Snow said.