Just a few years ago, many veterinarians couldn’t imagine having in-house blood analyzers. But now, those who took the plunge can’t imagine working without them.
Potential purchasers face a growing number of equipment options, service agreements and prices. Manufacturers are typically flexible with clients, allowing products to be tested in the clinic before a final decision is made. Some companies offer refurbished equipment for practices easing their way into the financial commitment of $10,000 to $30,000 worth of new machinery.
“About 40 percent of veterinarians have in-house hematology, chemistry and blood gas equipment,” says Cheryl Roge, DVM, director of professional services for scil animal care co. in Gurnee, Ill. “When this equipment started picking up momentum for in-house use, vets were getting the majority of their income from other avenues and were uncertain if the equipment would prove to be profitable. But now vets are using their equipment 10 times a day or more.”
Advancements in veterinary medicine allow for care that parallels human medicine and in some cases supersedes what’s available in a typical MD’s office.
A Key Time-Saver
Clients privy to the speed of in-house diagnostics often expect their veterinarian to offer the service, and if the veterinarian does not, some clients will find a veterinarian who does.
“It’s a stress for many clients to bring their pet to see the vet,” says Terry C. Gerros, DVM, of Santiam Equine Clinic in Salem, Ore.
“Owners don’t want to have to bring their pet in multiple times for treatment or wait to start treatment because blood work results aren’t available. I found that clients often asked me to treat without blood work when I had to send it out. Now that they know they can get results in 20 minutes, they treat more aggressively.”
Dr. Gerros has the Abaxis VetScan VS2 and the HM5 Hematology System, which cost about $19,000 for the pair. He says his main goal was to provide faster, more conclusive data for clients.
“We needed to upgrade our services to utilize available treatment advancements,” Gerros said. “I’ve had the equipment since 2004 and found the science was necessary to back up clinical skills. I would diagnose an animal with ‘A’ and then show clients the lab results to back that diagnosis. This instilled confidence in clients and built relationships.”
Fred Metzger DVM, Dipl. ABVP, of Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa., says equipment accuracy is his No. 1 consideration when buying an analyzer.
“Ease of use is another point to consider, as is customer support if anything goes wrong or breaks down, which happens. Find out if the company will fix the issue or replace the machine ASAP. The company reputation matters—will it be around in five years supporting the product? You’ll also want to make sure the equipment is upgradeable.”
The size of laboratory equipment can be a big factor if a clinic is short on space. Gerros says for him, the smaller the equipment’s footprint, the better. Quality control, ease of use, technical support and customer service are essential as well, he says.
Look for Value
“We are in challenging times and veterinarians, just like their clients, need to watch where they spend their money,” scil’s Dr. Roge says. “The best route is to look for a company that offers support for their equipment and doesn’t end the relationship with the sale or place restrictions on when they will help. Companies with 9-to-5 hours hamper veterinarians’ ability to perform their jobs. Look for a company that has the equipment you want and great customer service.”
The economy adds to veterinarians’ wariness of making a costly purchase when the return on investment might seem grim, but experts say practices doing well are the ones that focus on diagnostic medicine.
“Point-of-care medicine draws the type of clients that are more likely to use, even demand, that laboratory services are immediately available,” says Craig Tockman, DVM, director of professional services for Abaxis Inc. of Union City, Calif.
Experts say the clinic should promote the use of blood work as preventive care and note that the client can get results before leaving the clinic. This can increase compliance.
“Remind clients what their pet means to them and their family,” Roge says. “Let them know that taking advantage of blood work as preventive medicine actually saves them money in the long run by enabling you to catch any medical problems now and begin treatment early.
“Chemistry units often pay for themselves within a year,” she says. “Clients don’t automatically know their options. You have to let them know what you can offer them, and assuming the client will not comply will be a mistake for the patient and you.”
Veterinarians should consider what they hope to change or improve with the purchase of blood analyzer equipment, vendors say. Are client compliance, time savings or revenue enhancements priorities?
“I have two blood chemistry analyzers and I use them every day,” says Kate An Hunter, DVM, of Carver Lake Veterinary Center in Woodbury, Minn. “I also have a complete blood count machine.
“Over the years, I’ve realized the most important thing about the purchase is continuing to educate clients about it,” Dr. Hunter says. “I make sure to tell them about pre-anesthetic blood work and the need for senior testing. I have 100 percent compliance with pre-surgical blood work because it’s mandatory at my practice, and about 15 percent of my senior patients have had a full panel.”
In a bad economy, preventive maintenance may be one of the first things to go for people and animals. But avoiding the more costly results of forgoing medical care is medically and financially intelligent.
“I liken veterinary preventive care to that of a new car,” Hunter says. “I keep up with preventive maintenance so I don’t have to replace the whole engine. I tell clients, ‘It’s the same principle with animals.’
“I do not have to sell blood work options to clients,” she says. “It’s something they want when they’re educated on it. I discuss treatment and blood work options with clients and follow that up with physical information and website URLs.
“A client shouldn’t leave the practice without an educational piece of literature about what you have to offer.”