AAHA narrows its focus to accredited hospitals

Survey results indicate pet owners increasingly aware of AAHA accreditation
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The American Animal Hospital Association is altering its membership model and annual meeting to focus on what leaders see as the association’s foundation: the AAHA accreditation program for animal hospitals.

In October 2016, the association announced that it is discontinuing hospital membership for nonaccredited practices. Nonaccredited AAHA member hospitals have until June 30 to enter into an agreement to become an accredited practice or to have a staff member become an individual member. As of April 5, the association’s membership encompassed 3,741 AAHA-accredited practices and 1,510 nonaccredited practices.

In March, the association announced that it is discontinuing the traditional annual meeting. Instead, AAHA will hold an interactive conference for attendees from accredited hospitals, starting in September 2018. The association also is partnering with the North American Veterinary Community to offer continuing education, activities, and a headquarters hotel at the NAVC annual conference in February 2018.

The final traditional AAHA meeting, March 31-April 2 in Nashville, Tennessee, drew a total of 4,361 attendees, including 1,549 veterinarians, 439 veterinary technicians, 351 practice managers, 270 veterinary assistants and other members of support staff, and 72 veterinary and veterinary technology students.

During the opening session, the association released results of a survey of pet owners indicating that appraisals of veterinary hospitals have declined in a number of areas, while awareness of AAHA accreditation has increased.

Stunt Dog Productions’ Chris Perondi and rescue dog Spinelli show off their moves during the opening session of the annual meeting of the American Animal Hospital Association, March 31-April 2 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photos by Mark Skalny)

The scientific program included a track on biosecurity in companion animal practice (see story). Partners for Healthy Pets released a white paper about the PHP reminder program to re-engage inactive clients (see story). The North American Pet Health Insurance Association shared top ways that practices can promote pet insurance (see story).

Also during the conference, Dr. Mark McConnell assumed the office of president (see story), and the association gave the AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year Award (see story).

Changes for AAHA

“AAHA does not tell me how to practice medicine,” said Dr. Nancy Soares, outgoing AAHA president and owner of an AAHA-accredited hospital, during the opening session. “AAHA provides me with the tools so I can practice my best medicine.”

Having a category of hospital membership for nonaccredited practices created confusion between AAHA member hospitals and AAHA-accredited hospitals. Dr. Soares said, “We’re inviting the nonaccredited members to see what accreditation can do for them.”

By June 30, 2018, all AAHA member hospitals will be accredited hospitals. Any practices that have not earned accreditation will have the owner or medical director converted to individual membership.

During the opening session, AAHA introduced its new interactive conference, Connexity. The name combines “connecting” and “community.” Connexity will focus on networking, attendees learning from one another and from experts, and learning techniques such as field trips, work on case studies, and problem-solving in small groups.

The first conference will be Sept. 13-16, 2018, in Denver, with attendance limited to 700 individuals from AAHA-accredited hospitals.

At the NAVC annual conference, now known as the Veterinary Meeting & Expo, AAHA will invite individuals from accredited hospitals to stay at the Rosen Centre Hotel, which will be the association’s headquarters hotel. Members of AAHA who attend VMX will have access to exclusive activities at the Rosen Centre. The association will offer symposiums and select sessions at the hotel.

Also at the Nashville meeting, AAHA launched a purchasing program for AAHA-accredited hospitals, AAHA Advantage.

According to an announcement, accredited members who participate in the program can take advantage of preferred offers from top manufacturers and receive exclusive discounts, preferred pricing, or rebates on veterinary products and services.

The program is free for accredited members to try until Sept. 30. After that, an annual membership fee of $300 will apply. Fees go toward covering the administrative costs of the program, with any proceeds from the program going back into AAHA initiatives such as practice guidelines and other programs that benefit the veterinary profession.

Pet owners’ perceptions

The association contracted with Trone Brand Energy to conduct a survey of pet owners in fall 2016 as a follow-up to research that Trone had conducted for AAHA in 2013.

Results indicated that pet owners’ appraisals of veterinary hospitals have declined as follows:

  • Seventy-nine percent of pet owners believe their veterinary hospital provides appropriate staff education and training, compared with 84 percent in 2013.
  • Seventy-five percent of pet owners believe their veterinary hospital adheres to the latest standards, compared with 83 percent in 2013.
  • Seventy-six percent of pet owners believe their veterinary hospital has appropriate facilities, compared with 82 percent in 2013.
  • Eighty percent of pet owners believe their veterinary staff works as a team, compared with 86 percent in 2013.
  • Seventy percent of pet owners believe their veterinary hospital provides good value, compared with 76 percent in 2013.
A conference attendee cuddles kittens at the AAHA Cat Lounge in the exhibit hall. The association teamed up with Nashville Cat Rescue to offer the lounge. Four cats were adopted from the lounge, and AAHA matched attendees’ donations to raise $3,514 for the rescue.

Pet owners’ awareness of AAHA accreditation appears to have increased. Thirty percent of pet owners reported that they looked for an accredited hospital the last time they chose a veterinary hospital, compared with 16 percent in 2013. Sixty-two percent of pet owners reported that it is important to find an accredited veterinary hospital, compared with 51 percent in 2013.

After learning what AAHA accreditation is, pet owners said they would do the following:

  • Eighty-five percent of pet owners would choose an AAHA-accredited hospital over a nonaccredited hospital, compared with 81 percent in 2013.
  • Fifty-eight percent of pet owners would pay more for the assurance that comes from choosing an AAHA-accredited hospital, compared with 44 percent in 2013.
  • Sixty-three percent of pet owners would drive farther for an AAHA-accredited hospital, compared with 51 percent in 2013. 

The survey results also appeared to reveal an increasing opportunity to reach pet owners online. Word-of-mouth is still the primary factor for selecting a new veterinarian but has decreased to 53 percent, compared with 62 percent in 2013. Finding an AAHA-accredited hospital through an online directory has increased from 68 percent to 79 percent, and looking for accreditation on veterinary websites has increased from 38 percent to 44 percent.

Related JAVMA content:

Speaker: Animal hospitals must practice infection control (June 1, 2017)

Report: Free reminder program re-engages inactive clients (June 1, 2017)

Practices share top 10 ways to promote pet insurance (June 1, 2017)

Leading AAHA in a time of change (June 1, 2017)

AAHA recognizes 2017 accredited practice of the year (June 1, 2017)