Study ties practice culture to business metrics

AAHA attracts about 4,500 for annual conference
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Smaller practices and AAHA-accredited practices have stronger scores on practice culture in a number of areas, while stronger cultural scores in certain areas are associated with higher production per full-time-equivalent veterinarian.

Those are among the findings of a culture survey from the American Animal Hospital Association. The association released the results as part of the AAHA 2016 State of the Industry report during its yearly conference, March 31 through April 3 in Austin, Texas.

Bash Halow of Halow Tassava Consulting speaks at the yearly conference of the American Animal Hospital Association during his all-day session on human resources. (Courtesy of Mark Skalny Photography)

The AAHA conference featured the launch of the Fear Free Certification Program to help veterinary professionals reduce the fear that many pets experience during veterinary visits (see story). Morris Animal Foundation offered updates on the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study to study cancer and other conditions over the lifetime of Golden Retrievers (see story).

Also during the conference, Dr. Nancy Soares assumed the office of president (see story), and the association gave the AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year awards (see story).

The conference drew 4,490 attendees, including 1,585 veterinarians, 340 practice managers, 321 veterinary technicians, 283 veterinary assistants and other members of support staff, and 58 veterinary and veterinary technology students. The association’s membership encompasses about 3,700 AAHA-accredited practices and 1,800 nonaccredited practices.

State of the Industry

Dr. Mike Cavanaugh, AAHA chief executive officer, presented the 2016 State of the Industry report in a special session. The association collaborated with Idexx Laboratories Inc. on economic data in the report and with the University of Denver Daniels College of Business on the culture survey.

The number of active patients, or patients with at least one transaction during the year, increased a mean of 2.6 percent from 2014-2015, averaging across thousands of AAHA-accredited and nonaccredited animal hospitals in the United States. Patient visits increased a mean of 3.2 percent. Practice revenues increased a mean of 6.4 percent.

Line chart: Year-over-year change in number of patient visits to companion animal practices in the U.S.
Source: AAHA 2016 State of the Industry report

Thirty-five percent of hospitals saw revenues increase more than 10 percent, with active patients increasing a mean of 8.7 percent at those hospitals. Half of hospitals saw revenues increase 0 to 10 percent, with active patients increasing a mean of 0.9 percent at those hospitals. Fifteen percent of hospitals saw revenues decline, with active patients decreasing a mean of 7.1 percent at those hospitals.

The 2016 report included the “AAHA Culture Survey: Understanding the Impact of Organizational Culture in Veterinary Practices” conducted by the Daniels College of Business. The 1,850 respondents to the fall 2015 survey came from 1,035 companion animal practices.

The survey assessed eight attributes of organizational culture on a scale of 1 to 5. Respondents rated staff relationships with veterinarians highest, at 4.2, followed by training and career development, at 4.1. Rated lowest were institutional fairness and communication, at 3.6, and rewards and recognition, also at 3.6.

Bar chart: Mean ratings of cultural attributes at companion animal practices
Source: “AAHA Culture Survey: Understanding the Impact of Organizational Culture in Veterinary Practices”

There was a positive relationship between AAHA accreditation and six of the eight cultural attributes. Digging into data on other business metrics, Dr. Cavanaugh said, “We get this inference that smaller practices may have some cultural advantages.”

Positive perceptions toward relationships with veterinarians were associated with fewer new clients, lower gross incomes, and fewer employees. Stronger scores on the attribute of teamwork and staffing were associated with fewer new clients, fewer employees, lower gross incomes, and fewer FTE veterinarians. Stronger scores on the attribute of leadership skills and opportunities to contribute were associated with fewer employees and lower gross income as well as higher production per FTE veterinarian.

Higher production per FTE veterinarian also was associated with stronger scores on employee involvement and on supervision.

Job function impacted perceptions of culture, with this analysis excluding practice owners. Employees in the category of management/administrators had more-positive overall perceptions of culture, while associate veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and support staff had less-positive perceptions.

AAHA updates

In conjunction with the conference, AAHA made announcements about initiatives in areas ranging from practice management to practice guidelines to continuing education.

In early March, AAHA announced that practices participating in North American Business Association groups with AAHA will be transitioning into AAHA-Accredited Veterinary Management Groups through Veterinary Study Groups Inc. AAHA will be recruiting new members for the AAHA-Accredited VMGs, and VSG will be educating members of existing VMGs about AAHA accreditation. Currently, about 41 percent of practices in existing VMGs are accredited by AAHA.

In 2015, AAHA released the new AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines to offer tools for practices to assess and manage behavioral issues in dogs and cats. This year, the association plans to release new guidelines on oncology and on end-of-life care.

Capping off the opening session of the AAHA conference, Dr. Cavanaugh announced that all AAHA-accredited practices will receive a free VetFolio team subscription as part of their membership. The online CE platform is a joint partnership of AAHA and the North American Veterinary Community.

Related JAVMA content:

Building up practice (May 15, 2015)

Report highlights growing practices (May 15, 2014) 

Revenues rise with patient visits (May 15, 2013)