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The changing face of veterinary practice

Abstract

This month, David Steer discusses the impact of practice expansion on long-standing clients

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What can help your approach

  • Our clients are aware of the changes within our practice and our profession. We should, therefore, take time to reflect upon the changes that we implement and how these may affect our clients’ view of our practice.

  • An open discussion regarding the future of our practice and the possible implications for our clients can be beneficial.

  • It can be useful to remind clients of the positive aspects of practice growth and/or corporatisation.

  • Obtaining client feedback via questionnaires may be helpful when implementing changes within a practice.

One day in 1983, my wife, Elizabeth, and I went to view a horse we were looking to purchase. A local vet was highly recommended to us, and we asked him to join us for the viewing. This was the start of our relationship with a dedicated mixed practitioner who became our lifelong friend.

The vet in question began his career in 1973, working from his parents’ home. Three years later, he began to practise from his own home. By the time of our first meeting, the one-man practice had grown to four vets. The practice covered all species, and all the vets were equipped to deal with all health complaints of all animals. They all knew our names and our address, and we had a mutually respectful relationship.

As long-standing clients of this practice, we have observed the significant changes that have occurred at the practice over the years.

The four-man practice has steadily grown to 33 vets, each with their separate divisions: farm, small animal and equine. Maintaining a personal level of service is important to us, and we wonder whether the continued expansion of practices removes that personal touch. Of the 10 equine vets that now work at the practice, I would think that only three or four know our names and one or two know our horses’ names.

Until 1995, only qualified vets could own practices, but then the Office of Fair Trading allowed others to do so. This led to the creation of the corporates, which continue to grow by purchasing both small and large practices nationwide. The directors of these large businesses often do not have veterinary skills or knowledge, so do they really know what clients need and what makes them remain loyal to a practice?

We have also seen a transition towards vets having the option of working part-time or having a more flexible out-of-hours rota, and this change in the profession is likely welcomed by the vets within it. We understand that the days in which it was acceptable for a vet to work 24/7 have passed, but with this change comes an increased likelihood of us seeing different vets for ongoing conditions. This means that good communication between us and our vets is essential to maintain the highest standard of care for our animals.

Although there are some negatives to the growth of the practice we use, we do appreciate the many positives.

Over the years, there have been huge strides in anaesthesia and surgical techniques, meaning that many forms of illness or injury that formerly led to horses being euthanased are now treatable. The same is also true of diagnostic techniques such as ultrasound, digital radiography and MRI. These advances have made it possible to achieve far more accurate diagnoses than ever before.

Previously we have been faced with a lame horse and no option other than rest and painkillers, but now so much more can be done to prolong the quality of life of our beloved horses.

The practice expansion has also enabled the recruitment of veterinary specialists to enhance the knowledge and skills within the team, meaning our horses do not have to travel vast distances to receive specialist care.

We hope that our relationship with our practice will continue for many years to come

Times are changing within the veterinary profession and, as loyal clients, we have had the opportunity of observing these changes – some good and some not so good. Nevertheless, we hope that our relationship with our practice will continue for many years to come.

Do you want to get involved?

If you know a client who might be interested in writing for us, please contact us at vet.clientview{at}bmj.com. Any contributions will be assessed by the column’s veterinary coordinator, Zoe Belshaw.

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