Report highlights growing practices

Driving success are bonds between pets and owners, other relationships
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Melrose Animal Clinic and Back Bay Veterinary Clinic, both in Massachusetts, saw revenues increase more than 10 percent for each of the past two years. They are not alone in their success.

An analysis of data from 4,106 animal hospitals across the country found that 23 percent had an increase in revenues of more than 10 percent from 2012-2013. Of those, 44 percent also had an increase in revenues of more than 10 percent from 2011-2012.

The American Animal Hospital Association released the results during its yearly conference in March as part of its annual State of the Industry report. For the report, AAHA and Idexx Laboratories Inc. analyzed data from AAHA-accredited and nonaccredited companion animal practices.

The analysis found that revenues increased at 73 percent of hospitals from 2012-2013. Averaging across hospitals, revenues increased 5.5 percent. The number of active patients, or patients with at least one transaction during the year, increased a mean of 1.4 percent. Patient visits increased a mean of 2.1 percent—2.2 percent for dogs and 1.5 percent for cats.

A small follow-up survey of 202 hospitals found 16 of 46 factors that were significantly different between 21 “consistent outgrowers,” hospitals that saw revenues increase more than 10 percent for each of the past two years, and 65 decliners, hospitals that had a decline in revenues from 2012-2013.

Essential chemistry

Mike Erickson, PhD, Idexx vice president and general manager, presented the State of the Industry report during the opening session of the AAHA conference. He said the survey examined success factors across four bonds: pets and owners, practice and clients, practice and patients, and veterinarians and staff.

Graphic courtesy of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

“Collectively, these four bonds represent the essential chemistry that enables a hospital to really be successful and to grow,” Dr. Erickson said.

Two-thirds of consistent outgrowers cited the pet-owner bond as very important to their success, in comparison with less than half of decliners. Consistent outgrowers were more likely than decliners were to see themselves as having a critical role in strengthening the pet-owner bond and to describe their clients as partners in providing the best care possible for pets.

In the area of the practice-client bond, consistent outgrowers were more likely to do the following:

  • Invest in community events to build their local reputation.
  • Use client marketing software.
  • Offer payment plans for preventive care.
  • Share something after every visit to show value, such as a report card.
  • Schedule the next visit before the client leaves the hospital.
  • Follow up with the client after the visit via phone or email.

In the area of the practice-patient bond, consistent outgrowers were more likely to do the following:

  • Provide a stress-free environment.
  • Review the complete diagnostic history for a pet.
  • Trend diagnostic results to detect changes.

In the area of the veterinarian-staff bond, consistent outgrowers were more likely to do the following:

  • Set goals and measure progress.
  • Conduct daily rounds and staff stand-up meetings.
  • Invest in practice management technology and improvements in work flow.
  • Commit the team to higher standards, including AAHA accreditation.

Consistent outgrowers also were more likely to report success with preventive medicine.

Caring environment

Melrose Animal Clinic in Melrose, Mass., is among the consistent outgrowers from the survey. Dr. Stewart Silverman owns the four-veterinarian practice.

Dr. Silverman said one way that the practice fosters the bonds between pets and owners is by helping address pets’ behavioral issues. Another is by hiring people who love pets, and, therefore, really relate to clients.

Dr. Silverman
Dr. Stewart Silverman owns Melrose Animal Clinic in Melrose, Mass., one of hundreds of practices identified as “consistent outgrowers” by the State of the Industry report; as such, it saw revenues increase more than 10 percent for each of the past two years. (Photos courtesy of Idexx Laboratories Inc.)

Customer service is a priority, Dr. Silverman said, starting with having someone answer the telephone with a smile. The practice offers flexible hours, an inviting facility, and modern technology. Clients receive report cards, and the team also follows up with clients.

“We try hard to make their experience here unique, pleasant, friendly, warm, thorough, and top quality,” Dr. Silverman said. “We bond with them, and we care about them, and we care about their pets.”

The practice has a team environment with open lines of communication, Dr. Silverman said. Team members give each other a “bone” by putting a note in the shape of a bone in a box for doing something good. The team reads the notes at monthly meetings.

Dr. Silverman believes other practices also have the opportunity to grow. He said, “If each practice develops their own recommendations for pets in each life stage and pets with common medical diagnoses and focuses on delivering those recommendations to each of their pet owners, we will significantly improve both the quality of care and the financial strength of our practices.”

Healthy and happy

Back Bay Veterinary Clinic in Boston is another of the consistent outgrowers from the survey. Dr. Pamela Bendock owns the five-veterinarian practice.

Dr. Bendock said the practice promotes preventive care to keep pets healthy and happy and, thereby, strengthen the bonds between pets and owners.

Dr. Bendock
Dr. Pamela Bendock owns Back Bay Veterinary Clinic in Boston, another “consistent outgrower.”

If possible, the same veterinarian sees the same clients and patients to develop a rapport. The team always recommends what is in the best interest of patients and explains the reasons for the recommendations to the clients.

“There’s nothing like communication to gain someone’s trust,” Dr. Bendock said. “People will be much less likely to question diagnostics or bills or what have you if they feel they have a genuine understanding for what the value is in that service.”

Within the practice, the team becomes closer by discussing cases and spending time together. At staff meetings, everyone has a voice.

Dr. Bendock believes that, especially in a disconnected world, clients are looking for a relationship with a practice team to help guide them through the process of being a pet owner.

“I feel like the bond that people have with their animals is greater than ever,” she said. “Through veterinary medicine, we’re able to provide a longer, happier, healthier life for these patients that are so near and dear to us as human beings.”


Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, AAHA chief executive officer, noted that the State of the Industry report revealed that growers as well as decliners exist even in depressed areas of the country.

Dr. Cavanaugh espoused the philosophy that the veterinary profession needs to treat pet owners as partners, as experts on their own pets.

He added that many veterinarians find the concept of a practice culture to be nebulous. Nevertheless, he believes a practice’s culture is what drives its success.

Later in the year, AAHA and Idexx plan to publish the full results of the survey in a white paper.

Related JAVMA content:

Revenues rise with patient visits (May 15, 2013)

Veterinary visits increase slightly (May 15, 2012)