The end of the fiscal year is typically a beneficial time for veterinarians to purchase new technology or equipment because of the tax benefits, but that deduction won’t be worth anything if the equipment or technology isn’t used.
Introducing it to team members and clients should not be a scene out of “Field of Dreams”—if you build it, they will come. Instead, hospital owners should look at their goals and decide whether that technology or equipment will help them meet those goals, then provide the proper staff training and market the service to clients.
“When hospitals start with clear goals, that is when we see the most success,” explained Mike Erickson, general manager of Cornerstone and Pet Health Network at Idexx Laboratories of Westbrook, Maine.
Making a Choice
Whether an associate, practice manager or veterinary technician recommends the equipment or the owner decides he or she must have it, the decision to make a major purchase should be a deliberate one, not an emotional one.
“You have to determine who you are and what fits with your philosophy. I’ve seen a lot of practices who purchase a piece of equipment such as an ultrasound, and it gathers dust,” said Sheila Roe Grosdidier, RVT, PHR, a consultant with VMC Inc., a veterinary practice management consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo.
“There are easy fits,” Grosdidier said. “Digital radiography makes sense for nearly all clinics, and I haven’t worked with one that didn’t say that it improved the quality of their radiographs and their ability to share that information with clients. They also like that they can email those radiographs to referral practices.”
9 questions to ask before investing in new technology or equipment
* Does it make sense for clients and patients?
However, veterinarians often wait to use radiographs, so they are a confirmation tool rather than the diagnostic tool they were meant to be.
“In human medicine, 80 percent of radiographs prove to be normal. In veterinary medicine, 80 percent are abnormal,” she said. “We don’t have to be 99 percent sure that the bone is broken before we take the radiograph. We can use it as a diagnostic tool.”
Making sure that radiography is part of the practice protocol, then using those images to show clients the problem and how the veterinarian will help that pet, will increase the number of radiographs taken, enable the veterinarian to practice better medicine and strengthen the relationship with the client.
All equipment should be truly integrated into the practice, she said.
Craig Claney, general manager of AVImark Veterinary Management Software, a division of Henry Schein, suggested that veterinarians put away emotions and carefully weigh the benefits.
“It is hard to argue the numbers,” he said. “If the benefits to the clinic can be quantified, that is the easiest way to assess a purchase. You want to look at all the issues. Will this technology make the associate or staff more efficient? Can you charge for something new or increase the cost of something you already do? Can you capture missed charges? Will the technology make the customer feel better about his or her experience with the practice? You have to weigh all those things.”
But it is not just dollars and cents, according to Hallie A. Detjen, general manager of Impromed LLC, another subsidiary of Henry Schein.
“Each practice has to evaluate itself,” she said, but cautioned that owners must include intangible benefits. “Does this technology or equipment help us provide better service, better medicine, happier customers who return more often? Those might be harder to track, but they are also important considerations.”
“You can’t put a straight ROI [return on investment] number on that, but if you see improved level of care that consistently meets the goals of the hospital, I would consider that a major return on investment,” he said.
Another consideration before buying: Who will be your partner? Choosing a good partner might be one of the most important keys to success, all the experts said.
A veterinarian wants an experienced company with a good reputation that provides excellent support and training and understands veterinary medicine. As Erickson put it: “Veterinary hospitals are really special. They aren’t like running a hair salon. You want a partner who understands the key factors for success in your hospital.”
Detjen suggested that veterinarians consider the company’s history, whether it releases innovative products for veterinary medicine, as well as its ability to help train staff and support the veterinarian now and in the future.
The final consideration for any major purchase is financing. Many companies today offer competitive financing or can work with banks to get the veterinarian a good rate, but Grosdidier suggested that they also check with their local banks.
“Many companies themselves, especially for things like digital radiography, ultrasonography and cold lasers, have their own financing,” she said. “But don’t think that is your only avenue. Contact your local bank that you have a relationship with and check their rates, too.”
Train the Staff
Implementing a new piece of technology or equipment into the practice will take hard work and a plan to be successful.
“The most important thing is to plan ahead,” said Detjen. “Make sure you dedicate the resources on the front end to assure a successful implementation and to get the buy-in of the staff,” said Detjen.
“The most successful implementations we’ve seen occurs when they involve not just the doctors, but staff members who can be the champions of that software or equipment. So when they are at the front desk and someone is complaining, they can say ‘We can do this.’”
If the veterinarian can employ staff members during the decision-making process, even better. Select a small group and have them research the technology or equipment and suggest ways they can use it in the practice.
9 steps to a successful implementation
* Make sure the new technology or equipment is the right fit
Remember that change is scary and make sure that staff members understand the reasons behind the change and how they or their patients will benefit, said Grosdidier. Go over old cases and talk about whether the new equipment would have made a difference for that pet, she suggested.
“You need the team’s buy in, and for most team members, it is not about the money, it is about the standard of care and quality of care they can provide patients,” she said.
Adults learn in different ways, so try to provide various types of educational materials, which most companies can provide. Some people do better watching online videos, while others like to have a hands-on lecture with an instructor standing over their shoulder. Others like to read the manual. Offer several different ways for staff to get the information and allow them some time during the workday for training.
That will signal that you think it is important.
“Make it about them,” suggested Claney. “Show the benefits. If you provide good information about the technology and how the technology can be used to make the clinic and the staff more efficient, that can build support.”
There will always be people who resist change, added Grosdidier, so meet them head on, challenge their resistance and show them how they and the patients will benefit. Then, give them a little time to get out of the dugout.
Just don’t let them poison the rest of the staff, she warned.
“The one thing I will not let them do is vomit that resistance onto everyone else. I don’t mind if it takes them some time to process the change, but they cannot pass that negativity onto everyone else.”
Once everyone is comfortable with the new technology or equipment, do a live demonstration with a staff member or staff member’s pet. When everyone sees that the cold laser really helped the receptionist’s collie with arthritis, they will tell every client who walks in the door how great it is.
“When we see a failure in implementation, it was because the team was not brought in on the onset,” Grosdidier said. “They need to understand what we are doing, how we are doing it and what their role will be with it. Even if the team member is not using the equipment or technology, he or she will be helping you sell it and explain it to clients,” Grosdidier said.
“When a client looks to them and says, ‘Do you think I should do it?’ you want them to whole heartily endorse the procedure or service.”
Tell the World
Then you need to market the new service or technology to the client. Even if it is a backend inventory system or an electronic medical record, make sure that clients know that the practice is on the cutting-edge of veterinary medicine.
Use all available tools. Veterinarians might consider taking out an ad in the local newspaper or magazine announcing the service or program. Use the practice website, post card reminders, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to tell clients about the change. Take pictures of staff training or using the equipment and post them on the website and Facebook.
Videos in the waiting and exam rooms can be good educational resources that can also tout the new service.
“It is important to think about centralized messaging,” said Claney. “Make sure you get out a solid message. Use all of your media outlets to let all of your customers know that you have this technology or service. Technology wows customers. We are in a technology age and customers look for differentiators in the area.
“And remember, people need to hear it multiple times, so we encourage veterinarians to use their website, social media, reminders—all of these tools to tell clients that your hospital is on the cutting edge,” he said.
Erickson suggested that veterinarians really think about the message they want to give.
“The content of the communication matters,” he said. “We want to communicate in a way that engages the pet owner and gets them to be more involved in providing great care for the pet. Think—what does this communication say about the hospital?”
No matter how you let clients know, make sure that they understand that the new service is not about the money, it is about providing better medicine for their pets.
| What’s the latest and greatest?
Veterinary Practice News asked these experts what was really “hot” right now in veterinary medicine. Here’s what they had to say.
“I think the hot topic right now is inventory management,” said Hallie A. Detjen, general manager of Impromed LLC. Inventory management systems that link the practice to the distributor can ease the workflow of inventory and help the practice capture lost charges.
“Inventory can be a huge cost for a clinic,” she said. “Think of a simple item like amoxicillin. Say it costs me $2 and I decide my mark-up will be 100 percent, so I charge $4. Then, the distributor raises the cost to $3. If I don’t change that in my practice management software, I will still sell that for $4, but I will only be making a $1 on it, not $2.
“Many practices update their prices annually. That is a long time to review your pricing. Inventory management systems allow your prices to change automatically.”
Craig Claney, general manager of AVImark Veterinary Management Software, agrees that automated inventory is a real advantage in a clinic. He also is seeing smaller PCs that can fit on the back of the monitor.
“Hardware is always moving and advancing. We are seeing smaller sizes, which can be a big thing because space is at a premium in an animal hospital,” he said.
Communication and technology are hot buttons, according to Mike Erickson, general manager, Cornerstone and Pet Health Network at Idexx Laboratories.
“Having a modern practice management system is absolutely core,” he said. “Having a client communication system that is tied into your practice management system helps you generate interest and focus on online reviews management.
“You need a variety of different communication techniques. Post cards still matter, but texting and emailing are also important. You need more ways to meet the pet owners on their terms.”
Sheila Roe Grosdidier, RVT, PHR, a consultant with VMC Inc., is seeing a great migration to outsourcing and reputation management.
“It used to be that veterinarians wanted to hold onto everything,” she said. “They had to do it all themselves. They are realizing they don’t have to do it all themselves. If I am going to be successful in my marketing programs, I probably need someone to help.
“One important area is reputation management. We don’t even know who these people are writing online reviews, but for some reason they carry a lot of weight with us. Everyone wrings their hands over reviews online, but there are companies that monitor and manage that,” she said.