Erwin Hohn and Adi Nell are both Senior Partners at Medivet. Erwin has a postgraduate degree in sociology and an MBA. Adi has advanced clinical qualifications and has recently completed MBA studies.
None of us knows what the future will bring. There’s been much written in the vet press and many meetings have been held to look at the challenges we face. Major issues included work-life balance and
financial viability, the rise of corporates and feminisation in the profession, as well as standards of care. There are others: business skills, student debt, lack of leadership, excessive regulation and legislation, lack of evidence-based veterinary medicine, competition from non-vets, online pharmacies, mobile veterinary clinics, the Internet and its legions of unqualified experts, the rapidly-rising cost of offering a comprehensive service, and rising client expectations, to name just some.
We propose a new model of working together that could change the face of veterinary care. This model offers new ways of working and solutions to many of these challenges.
In 1817, the renowned economist Daniel Ricardo came up with a novel idea: stick to what you do best. This has been proved successful over and over again – but, oddly, is often overlooked. If you do what you do best and I don’t compete with that, but offer another service that I can do really well, we’ll maximise our profits and can support each other rather than competing.
Can we apply this to our profession?
Theory into practice
In our practices, we play to our vets’ strengths by allowing each one to do what they do best. We’ll refer to each other internally or between branches in a group. That’s just what Ricardo suggested.
By expanding this principle, we could work collaboratively with those we think of as competitors, both veterinary and non-veterinary. This would serve to advance the health and wellbeing of our patients, not just cure or prevent disease.
We already do this to a degree: practices share out of hours work, for example, or refer to specialist centres. The problem with the referral example is it’s currently one way only – if a complex fracture repair turns into an amputation, could it not be referred back to you?
We can apply this more widely. Breeders could refer puppies to a small vaccination clinic. That branch does the vaccination, but sends the puppies to a larger practice for x-rays when they’re lame. In turn, the larger practice sends its inoculations to the vaccination clinic or small satellite, and they refer clients who want to buy puppies back to the breeder. I could, for example, support your investment in an MRI unit and you could support my laparoscopic surgery.
This is how many human community health programmes work all round the world, right now.
Pie in the sky?
This collaborative approach deals with many of the challenges the profession has identified. By specialising in what each party does best, costs are reduced and financial viability is enhanced. Those who do what they love doing have fewer problems with work-life balance. Corporates become part of the solution. And client expectations are much easier to meet if we play only to our strengths.
It’s easier to develop business skills for a narrower range of services than for a much broader one – and it’s easier to choose your own hours. That same focus makes regulators and legal compliance easier. Non-veterinary competitors become collaborators. Rising costs are controlled by the same narrower focus, and evidence-based medicine is enhanced by sharing outcomes.
This utopia may seem difficult to achieve. But there are simple, practical steps that we can take right now to make our lives more professionally fulfilling, less stressful and more financially rewarding.
Hohn, Erwin W (Sep 2014) The Development of Veterinary Community Health. Proceedings of the 39th World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress, 249-252.