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Giant, Gnome or In-Between…VHMA Survey Shows All Veterinary Practices Have An Achilles Heel!

Posted By Christine Shupe, Thursday, June 25, 2015

Veterinary practice management professionals strive to promote excellence in the practice by applying their skills and training to attract and maintain a strong client base, offer excellent services, hire qualified staff, foster financial growth and productivity, and much more. Veterinary practices come in differenent sizes– from the small, family-run business to the large corporate facility. The size of the operation may vary, but the manager’s goal is the same -- helping the practice to thrive.


The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) recently asked whether practice size affects the issues managers struggle with in their pursuit of success. To address this issue, the VHMA developed and distributed the “Giants and Gnomes Survey.” Survey results reveal that it is the intensity of the issues, not the issues themselves that vary by size of the veterinary practice.


The survey was conducted at conferences sponsored by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC), and the Western Veterinary Conference (WVC). A total of 724 responses were received. Respondents were employed in the following positions: practice managers (60%), practice owners (29%), hospital administrators (6%), and office managers (5%).


Results were analyzed by practice size, which respondents self-selected:
•    Small practice (15 or fewer staff members) 51%
•    Medium practice (between 16 and 50 staff members) 41%
•    Large practice (more than 50 staff members) 8%


To understand the practice environment, respondents were asked to provide information about current conditions. Overwhelming, managers indicated that their practices enjoyed good reputations, offered high-quality products and services, employed talented and caring staff and adhered to high medical standards.  When the individual variable scores were aggregated and averaged, medium practices (86%) gave the most favorable assessments, followed by small practices (84%) and large practices(78%). Although overall practice evaluations were similar and positive, difference began to emerge as managers addressed specific issues.


To Stay or Not to Stay


A 2012 study published in Entrepreneur found that offering strong benefits is essential to hiring and retaining talented employees. Close to 80% of small and medium practices reported that they have been successful in retaining qualified staff. Among small practices, a mere 51% considered the practice’s employee benefit program an asset. The percentage was slightly higher (61%) among medium practices. Despite weak benefits, the practices boast strong retention.


Interestingly, retention among large practices was more problematic and only 65% of respondents said their practice did a good job of preventing staff turnover. Close to 80% of these respondents proceeded to described their employee benefit programs as strong! The results are incongruous with research that shows a relationship between high retention and strong benefits.


Although the data does not offer enough information to identify the reason for these results, one can speculate that a smaller, more personal work environment, which offers a better quality of life, may be a stronger enticement than life insurance, a 401K, or sick leave.


Size Esteem


Are you happy with your size? It is a common and ubiquitous question---are you happy with your body size, the size of your LinkedIn contact list or the size of your retirement savings! VHMA asked respondents to evaluate their satisfaction with their practice size. Among large practices, 100% said their size was their strength. Medium practices also demonstrated a strong practice image with 87% reporting satisfaction. Among small practices, 71%  indicated they were satisfied.


Despite the overall satisfaction with size, it does appear that size may impact a practice’s ability to provide specific services. For example, large practices were more likely to report strong marketing and advertising efforts and effective web and social media activities -more staff and larger budgets may allow for this. Small and medium  practices struggled more with marketing and advertising, as well as maintaining web and social media presences. More than half of small and medium practices identified these areas as weak.


The Devil in the Details


Strong practices are strong for a reason – they are managed by skilled and talented professionals. To discover that the majority of respondents reported that their practice, regardless of size, is successfully executing the core competencies related to practice management is not surprising. However, common to all respondents – small, medium and large practices – the areas frequently cited as falling in the adequate to weak range are financial management, inventory management and, to a lesser degree, medical records management. These areas not only require specialized knowledge, but also can have serious financial implications for the practice. For managers committed to excellence, it is not surprising to learn that these are the areas where ongoing education and training are essential.


Opportunity Knocks


Growing, changing and improving are crucial to personal and professional growth. Respondents were presented with a list of opportunities that could benefit their practices. Featured on the list were: insurance options for clients, third party payment options, wellness plans, pharmacy services, value added services, new relationships with other professionals, advanced training and/or certification of employees, and referral practices. All respondents, regardless of practice size, expressed an above average interest in pursuing these opportunities. One area received particularly strong scores from all respondents – advanced training and/or certification for employees – and should certainly be considered as an areas where future education efforts are directed. Mobile units/home visits was not was the only opportunity that was not embraced by respondents.


Facing the Future


Respondents looked into the future and shared their biggest concern -- the economy. Competition came in a weak second place.  Among large practices, 67% indicated that the future labor market raised a red flag.


Lessons Learned


Big, small, in between…do practices struggle with the similar issues? The survey revealed that for the most part they do. The few differences were in the areas of benefits and marketing and advertising.  Large practices said they performed better in these areas, most likely due to economies of scale and larger budgets.
More importantly is the commitment to growth and excellence exhibited by all respondents. Among all respondents, there was interest improving skills by learning more about financial, inventory and medical records management. Respondents also shared an interest in exploring and learning more about opportunities for practice growth.


Whether you are a giant, gnome or in between, it’s clear that size can impact practice issues. However, giant, gnome or in between…practice managers are committed to being the best they can be.


About VHMA: The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association, Inc. (VHMA) was formed in 1981 to provide individuals actively involved in Veterinary Practice Management a means of effective communication and interaction. Our membership is comprised of Hospital Administrators, Practice Managers, Office Managers, Veterinarians, Consultants, and others interested in veterinary management. The mission of VHMA is to enhance and serve professionals in veterinary management through superior education, certification, and networking.

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