The 4-Wheeled Practitioner

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The 4-Wheeled PractitionerThe 4-Wheeled Practitioner, mobile veterinarians, mobile veterinarian vehicleLess overhead is inspiring more veterinarians to hit the road and make house calls.Veterinarians taking their specialty on the road have a plethora of options for selecting a vehicle. While some practices are located within the confines of a mobile unit, others utilize a vehicle in addition to a brick-and-mortar facility.cover storiesThe 4-Wheeled PractitionerLess overhead is inspiring more veterinarians to hit the road and make house calls.By Jessica Tremayne
Contributing EditorPosted: Nov. 28, 2011, 4:30 p.m. EST

Veterinarians taking their specialty on the road have a plethora of options for selecting a vehicle. While some practices are located within the confines of a mobile unit, others utilize a vehicle in addition to a brick-and-mortar facility.

Koni Wade, national sales manager at LaBoit Mobile Specialty Vehicles in Gahanna, Ohio, says 95 percent of the company’s clients are exclusively mobile. No stationary clinic means little overhead and minimal staff.

Mobile vet unit
Mobile unit
A number of veterinarians are finding that they can work just as effectively in a mobile practice as they can in a brick-and-mortar one.Courtesy of Dodgen Mobile Technologies.

Dena Baker, DVM, owner of Mobile PetVet in Naples, Fla., looked into leasing space in a shopping center, but she found the costs of improvements and ongoing maintenance cost-prohibitive.

“I had been inside a mobile veterinary hospital at a couple of conferences and really liked the idea,” she says. “The start-up process was much quicker and affordable as well.”

Veterinarians offering full-service patient care at a client’s doorstep can purchase and travel with all the essential equipment, such as refrigeration for medication and vaccines, an autoclave, a dental scaler/polisher, a scale, surgery lights, radiograph equipment and an exam/operating table.

“When I started my mobile practice, my mobile unit had more equipment and capabilities than a lot of stationary practices I had worked and volunteered for,” Dr. Baker says. “Most equipment that you would want is available for a mobile environment once you learn how it needs to be mounted and secured and what power supply it requires.
“There was some trial and error,” she admits, “but all of the equipment I purchased worked in the mobile unit. You do use a lot of Velcro and RV tie-downs, though.”

What’s New
“The newest option is digital X-ray processing,” Wade says. “It’s definitely a wave of the future and much more affordable lately. We have also seen an increase in veterinarians who want to do dental X-ray on board as well.”

Buying a mobile unit typically starts with a consultation between the dealer and practitioner. The veterinarian discusses his wants, needs and intended uses for the vehicle, and the manufacturer or supplier will work to accommodate all needs.

Dental Surgery
Mobile practitioners can perform a number of services.Courtesy of LaBoit Mobile Specialty Vehicles.

“We encourage veterinarians to call us so that we can have a deep discussion,” says Dennis Day, vice president, of the Commercial Division at Dodgen Mobile Technologies in Humboldt, Iowa. “We probe into their business model plans and the type of equipment they want or need. We also ask how many staff members will work from the vehicle. With that information, we then make suggestions on the model.
“When the ideas are agreed upon,” he adds, “a quotation and proposed floor plan are forwarded to the prospect, along with an invitation to visit the factory or visit owner references.”

Serving Clients’ Needs
Dodgen has seen growing demand for upgraded cabinetry, lower-cost cages with drain pans and grates, and an isolation area for contagious dogs, Day says.

Bowie Legacy Bowie Monarch
Mobile units come in many shapes and sizes to fit almost any practice’s needs.Courtesy of Bowie International LLC.

Mobile vets report that they enhance community service while minimizing practice responsibilities.

“I had many clients who were older or in nursing facilities who couldn’t drive,” Baker says. “Also, for working people or those who have multiple pets, it was more convenient for us to provide one service visit as opposed to their trying to schedule multiple days from work to take all the pets to a stationary veterinarian. Some clients would even give us keys or codes to their homes so we could take care of their pets while they were at work.”

The service is a favorite of clients who work from home, Baker adds.

“They can keep working while waiting for us to arrive or while we take care of their pets,” she says. “Some people just like the convenience of being able to wait at home for the appointment instead of driving their pets to a clinic and waiting to be seen by the doctor. The other clients who make up a large portion of mobile practices are those who have nervous or aggressive animals.”

Also benefiting are senior pets, especially older large-breed dogs, as well as breeders and owners of multiple puppies or kittens who don’t want the animals “exposed to the possibility of nosocomial infections,” Baker says.

Some Mobile Practice Options
“We just introduced a 21-foot Ford E350 Veterinary Clinic. It has a separate surgery suite and is fully self-contained, as our other vehicles are. This unit is more compact for clients in busy city streets or clients who just want to do limited services for house-call patients.”
Koni Wade, sales manager with LaBoit Mobile Specialty Vehicles in Gahanna, Ohio

“We have a 26-foot mobile veterinary clinic, 26-foot mobile spay/neuter clinic, and our metal eight-drawer vet box.”
Jody Blais, president of Magnum Mobile in Phoenix

“We’ve seen a trend in shorter truck beds, so we’ve accommodated clients by creating units that allow for an extended cab.”
Steve Sinnard, executive vice president of Bowie International LLC and Porta Vet in Lake City, Iowa

“We have a Ford F-450 and F-550 Ford truck chassis, where applicable. By offering the F-series trucks, we can now offer gasoline or diesel engines, factory four-wheel drive and additional cab comforts.”
Dennis Day, vice president (Commercial Division) at Dodgen Mobile Technologies in Humboldt, Iowa

More veterinarians are inquiring about mobile units and the accessories that make a traveling practice possible.

“We work with veterinarians who do a lot of farm, equine or feedlot work,” says Steve Sinnard, executive vice president of Bowie International LLC and Porta Vet in Lake City, Iowa. “We provide inserts to pickup trucks that allow vets to take equipment from their brick-and-mortar facility to the client’s location. I’d say 90 percent of our clients work both out of their offices and a mobile unit.”

Accessories run the gamut, Sinnard says.

“There’s a move toward software-operated units,” Sinnard says. “A lot of our clients serve people who live in isolated areas, which means they need their own communication, heaters, refrigeration and water tank. We’ve become more customization-driven, which allows veterinarians to decide how many and what type of drawers, dividers and trays they want. The electronic diagnostic systems we use handle all of the practitioner’s systems in the unit.”

The changing economy is one reason veterinarians are looking to purchase a mobile unit, providers say many new graduates and veterinarians who want to expand their practices consider a four-wheeled approach.

“Going mobile is always an option for a veterinarian,” says Jody Blais, president of Magnum Mobile in Phoenix. “Some who had never thought about it before are looking into the option, which allows them to keep overhead to a minimum while building their own practices.”

Getting a Loan
Acquiring a loan for a mobile practice is similar to getting one for a traditional practice, manufacturers say. Veterinarians can apply for a Small Business Administration loan, sit down with a lender they’re comfortable with or get recommendations from mobile unit dealers.

“[Lenders] know the veterinary industry and the type of equipment that goes into the vehicles,” Wade says. “[Some] offer nothing down, so you can keep any cash you have for working capital. They offer step plans and graduated payments to give the veterinarian every avenue to build up a client base before the regular payments start.”

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