April 17, 2009
When Kent Adams, DVM, talks about his in-house services, the “house” tends to be miles from his veterinary office. His exam room is often a stall in a client’s barn, and he’s comfortable doing lab analysis off the back of a pickup truck.
Such is the life of a large-animal veterinarian providing ambulatory service in the New River Valley of Virginia. Dr. Adams’ extended-cab 4-by-4 is where leading-edge medicine intersects with rural outreach.
“There are times when I’ll be standing in a barn at 10 o’clock at night, looking at a horse with a snotty nose, and the client will prompt me, ‘Do you think we need blood work?’” says Adams, one of five doctors at Appalachian Veterinary Services.
“That’s when I learn about the rewards of marketing.”
Like more than a few of his companion-animal colleagues, Adams finds that a pitch for his on-site and in-the-field laboratory services strikes a chord with potential clients. That’s why he mentions the lab in just about all of his marketing materials.
Such services send the message that a practice bases diagnoses on the timeliest information, practitioners say. Especially in highly competitive markets, that can be a differentiator that attracts new business.
“With new clients, you don’t want to miss any opportunity make a positive impression and win loyalty,” says Martin Mulroy, vice president of sales and marketing for North American veterinary business at Abaxis, a leading maker of point-of-care blood analyzers.
Mulroy recommends that owners of new practices highlight their on-site services right from their grand-opening announcement on.
The message should also run near the top of ads in the Yellow Pages as well as in mailers and especially on the practice’s website, he adds.
“We have lots of anecdotal evidence that these efforts do entice new clients,” Mulroy says.
Kate An Hunter, DVM, has advertised in-house blood analysis since she opened the Carver Lake Veterinary Center in Woodbury, Minn., 12 years ago.
“We do talk about getting in-house lab work done in a matter of minutes,” Dr. Hunter says, “and clients often comment because it can be so different from their own medical experience, where they’re used to waiting up to two weeks for lab results.
“As the standard of care increases in veterinary medicine, more and more clients expect that when the question is, ‘What’s wrong with my animal?’ the answer will be an informed one, and it will come very quickly.”
More than convenience is at stake in the quest for swift results, adds Don J. Harris, DVM, owner of Avian & Exotic Animal Medical Center in Miami, Fla.
“You can talk about costs, quality control and other things, but there’s nothing that occupies a higher priority than a quick turnaround of diagnostics,” Dr. Harris says. “The longer it takes to get an answer, the less it helps me.
“That’s true for all types of veterinary practice, but it’s especially true for exotics. If I’m treating an animal the wrong way for 24 hours, I might miss the window of opportunity to help him.”
When Mark Crootof, DVM, operated his own veterinary practice, he advertised in a variety of ways but found that nothing resonated quite like word-of-mouth. That’s still the case, Crootof now tells clients as a partner in Strategic Veterinary Consulting, based in Asheville, N.C.
“There’s a certain percentage of ‘A’ clients who are very cognizant of in-house lab analysis,” he says. “Some will come in and tell you, ‘Here’s Poochie, draw for CBC and a chem panel.’”
Such clients are the ones who will sing the praises of a clinic they know to be at the cutting edge of veterinary practices, Dr. Crootof adds.
These days, it’s also important to advertise in-house lab services when seeking out new technicians and associate veterinarians, practitioners say.
“Not only do we want to be a practice that keeps that source of profit margin in-house, but we want to be known as a practice that can expand the skill set of technicians and allow them to be more productive,” Hunter says.
For Adams, a push for expansion of wellness care services allowed him to see just how deeply his message of in-house lab services resonates with clients.
“We realized that if we relied just on the small subset of sick patients to generate enough volume to justify an in-house lab, the fees would not be very affordable,” he says.
So Adams launched a direct-mail campaign that ballyhooed the on-site analyzers, along with other equipment.
“We didn’t find very many takers on the wellness concept,” he says, “but we did make people more aware of what services were available. And we’ve found that clients are eager to trust us as veterinarians to make medically appropriate decisions about what’s needed for their animals’ care.”
Adams also adds, “When I present the option of lab work, one of the first questions out of their mouth is, ‘When will we get the results?’ By saying, ‘In a couple of hours’ instead of ‘Tomorrow,’ suddenly those results have more relevance and much more value, and clients are much more willing to buy into the proposition.”
For that buy-in, Adams delivers peace of mind that diagnosis and treatment are not shots in the dark, even at 10 p.m. in the barn out back.
“When I can deliver blood work that confirms the diagnosis, everyone sleeps better,” he says.
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