Barn to Barn Business
Inventory control, labor, A/R, facilities management, purchasing all clamor for the equine practice’s attention
Equine veterinarians, like all healthcare providers, face a myriad of practice management challenges, including inventory control, staffing, purchasing, accounts receivable, and facilities management. Today more than ever, they have to address these issues as business professionals, particularly as the disposable income of many horse owners declines, and as owners avail themselves of a myriad of nonveterinary sources of information, services and products.
It’s true that the solutions to many of these challenges may be found in advanced hardware and software applications. But not to be forgotten is one of the oldest of all. “What it comes down to is your value proposition,” says Mark T. Reilly, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Equine), South Shore Equine Clinic, Plympton, Mass. “Have you developed strong doctor/ client/patient relationships?”
People and inventory
Ten years ago, horses were more abundant, and owners had greater ability and willingness to spend money on their horses, says Jeannie Jeffery, national director of equine sales, Butler Schein Animal Health – a Henry Schein Company. But today, certain high-dollar surgical procedures, particularly elective ones, and some diagnostic procedures, are down. “That’s the challenge,” she says. “And it’s also a great opportunity for our industry to really utilize its competitive advantage – that is, client relationships.”
Equine practices are particularly challenged in two of their highest-cost areas – people and inventory, continues Jeffery, who joined Butler Schein in January 2012 following a career in sales and management with Fort Dodge Animal Health and then Pfizer Animal Health (now Zoetis). “If [our customers] can effectively manage labor and inventory, they will generate additional profits and practice value.” In so doing, they can generate the capital needed to invest in their people, cutting-edge technology and the diagnostic tools to provide the best care for their clients.
Labor is a big chunk of the equine practice’s expenses, says Jeffery. As such, the practice must answer some tough questions, such as, “Are we attracting the right people and then retaining them?” or “Do our people fit with others on the team?” How often do sales reps call on offices and hear complaints about one staff member or another, such as, “She can’t get along with anybody?”
“From that perspective, [the equine veterinarian] needs to look at the people they’re hiring and make sure they’re aligned with the practice’s mission and vision,” says Jeffery. The practice owner(s) must know the competency and skill levels of the people working in the practice, and, just as important, make sure they are working at full capacity. For example, if a technician is capable of drawing blood or setting up IV catheters, is he or she in fact doing so? Access to technology Accessing technology is a major challenge equine practices must face, says Reilly. “Our clients expect us to have the latest and greatest,” but they often fail to appreciate the cost to the practice of acquiring those technologies, he says. “Not every practice has the ability to get a digital X-ray system or MRI. I think that’s tough, especially in today’s economy, and many solo practitioners are trying to figure out how to compete.”
Indeed, small practices – and their clients – are facing greater challenges than ever before, largely because of the economic climate, he says. Without the benefit of new technology, but reluctant to refer cases to practices that do, some practices may underserve their clients and horses.
Inventory control should be an important part of the equine practice, according to those with whom Vet-Advantage spoke. Key indicators reps should observe and, if necessary, comment upon, include:
• Are inventory levels being updated when shipments of products arrive (in the absence of an automated system)?
• Is the clinic adjusting its prices as its suppliers do so?
• Is the clinic properly allocating inventory to the appropriate cost center, such as the central pharmacy, trucks or surgery? And have they appointed someone to keep on top of this?
In Florida, business for equine practices tends to be cyclical, says Paul Vrotsos, CVT, MBA, chief executive officer, Peterson & Smith Equine Hospital, Ocala, Fla. “We have a busy breeding season [in the first part of the year], and you want to make sure you’re stocked appropriately.” The challenge is keeping shelves filled while maintaining an optimal number of inventory turns and avoiding excessive outdating, and making room for newly introduced products and technologies. “It can really impact your bottom line if you have dollars on the shelves that are not moving,” he says.
Peterson & Smith recently implemented a new practice management system that will help inventory control, among other aspects of the practice. One of the biggest pluses of the new system is its ability to synchronize data – product usage, billing information, clinical records, etc. – between the ambulatory veterinarians’ laptops and the practice’s central server, says Vrotsos. “It downloads what they’ve done, and uploads information from the central server, so that when they pull out of here, they have as close to live-time information as they can,” he says.
In the absence of proper inventory control, the practice may miss charges or undercharge clients, says Jeffery. “The opportunity for our practitioners is to invest in inventory control and improve on capturing their fees and charges. Inventory control helps the practice regulate expenses and identify problem areas, such as shrinkage. And fee capture will drive top-line revenue.”
Successful practices differentiate themselves through their quality and service, says Jeffery. “They need to focus on what they do well. There are opportunities.” Butler Schein, for example, offers MyVetDirect, an online store that allows veterinary practices to offer clients the same convenience as other online sellers. “The practice doesn’t have to worry about inventory, and it keeps their customers intact,” she says.
Automated practice management systems can do much to aid the equine practice, she says. Employing cloud-based technology, inventory levels and pricing can be updated as products are brought into the practice.
“You have to control what you have, and it must be priced accordingly so it doesn’t sit on your shelves,” says Reilly, speaking of inventory. But there’s a larger issue, he says. “For generations, veterinarians saw inventory as a profit center, but other professionals didn’t. We have to get back to being a service industry.”
Automated electronic medical records are a step forward for better clinical care, says Reilly. Certain segments of South Shore Equine Hospital’s patients are mobile, due to racing or equine competitions. “It’s not unusual for multiple veterinarians to work on the same horse, and it can be frustrating [in the absence of digital records] to follow what’s been going on while the horse was away.”
As in all veterinary markets, distributor reps have much to offer their equine customers to help them solve their practice management issues. But they have to keep in mind the unique circumstances facing equine veterinarians, says Jeffery. “The equine practitioner is on the run, behind the windshield, covering a lot of territory,” she points out. He or she may be walking barn to barn, and may regard the rep as a nuisance or worse. “So you need an understanding of the industry,” she says. “You have to be credible and speak the language. It’s a question of trust. You have to show a willingness to learn in order to establish credibility with the equine practitioner.
“But once they know who you are and trust you, it’s a totally different bond.”
Equine practices are challenged in two of their highest-cost areas – people and inventory. Effectively managing labor and inventory will open up increased profits.
Inventory control is critical to an equine practice. Are inventory levels being updated when shipments of products arrive (in the absence of an automated system)? Is the clinic adjusting its prices as its suppliers do so? Is the clinic properly allocating inventory to the appropriate cost center, such as the central pharmacy, trucks or surgery? A
utomation is power. Automated practice management systems can keep track of inventory and pricing, and automated electronic medical records allow an animal’s total care to be accessed real-time.