Updated: Aug 26
As many of you are aware, the veterinary industry is changing at an alarming rate. The veterinary industry is overwhelmed with new patients, and there are not enough doctors or technicians to keep up with the workload. This new balancing act has led to the necessary change within the field.
What in the World Happened?
Pre-COVID, many practices, clinics, and hospitals were already stressed by the workload. Veterinary professionals within the industry have struggled with an overwhelming caseload, lack of lunch breaks, and overall compassion fatigue and/or burnout.
Post-COVID, we are now dealing with the pets that were born or adopted during times when owners could work from home. Not only has this increased the number of patients being seen in general, but it has limited the staff’s ability to provide quality veterinary care and, in some places, has actually capped new patient intakes.
Read that again. The ratio of staff to patients is so poor in places that the actual burden of patients having legitimate emergencies has required many emergency hospitals to deny patient intakes. Mainly due to the inability to adequately staff enough employees to care for the increase in patients needing treatment.
Realistically, given the current state of the veterinary industry, turning patients away is a safe move for your business regardless of illness or emergency. If your clinic or hospital is not properly suited to provide quality veterinary care for the patient and you take them anyway, you could open yourself to a malpractice suit.
The owners, however, do not see it as such. They only see that you are refusing to see your pet in a time of need.
Addressing the Problem
If you boil it down, the main problems that all veterinary practices within the industry face are based on supply and demand:
An increased number of patients
A lack of qualified veterinarians
A lack of qualified technicians
In order to find the best solution to the current dilemma, clinics must begin to reacclimate and adapt to the changing environment. These industry issues can be addressed, but it will take a lot of effort from both corporate management and private veterinary practices. Below are 5 ways to improve your current business to accommodate the changing veterinary industry.
While you may be initially opposed to it, telemedicine is one of the newest veterinary industry trends. This opportunity gives veterinarians more free time to be able to see patients not physically at their clinic to help address common issues and determine whether or not the patient actually needs to be seen.
This veterinary trend only works if the client and your practice have an active Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR), meaning their pet has had a physical with your practice within the last six months.
Many pet owners find these virtual appointments to be a very reasonable, convenient, and helpful alternative to in-practice visits because they can often address problems at home.
Fido Smith had a physical exam one month ago and all was normal. The owner calls to say that Fido has been licking and chewing at his paws incessantly. The receptionist asks if Ms. Smith would like a telemedicine visit with Dr. Doolittle and she agrees. Dr. Doolittle and Ms. Smith speak about the circumstances surrounding the start of the symptoms and it is determined that Fido’s reaction is likely environmental. She is advised that she can give him a specific dosage of Bendryl based on Fido’s last exam weight. Ms. Smith is instructed to call back if the symptoms worsen and the entire encounter is recorded in Fido’s patient file.
Circumstances such as the instance above can often be handled quickly, but take more time when the visit is in-house. If you had the ability to do several of these telemedicine, telehealth, or virtual appointment visits a day, you can increase the number of patients seen and decrease the demand in your overall workload by, at minimum, reducing your cleaning efforts and lobby traffic.
2. Hiring Incentives
Hiring incentives is another veterinary industry trend you should certainly consider when you are looking to hire qualified veterinarians and technicians. Unfortunately, there are not as many industry-qualified veterinary professionals in the world to keep up with the demand in practice. This is exactly why you should set your business apart from the thousands of other places that are hiring locally.
Do your research to see what other local practices are paying and see if they are providing any hiring incentives. This could include any or all of the following:
A sign-on bonus
Paid Continuing Education (CE)
Discounted services for personal pets
Realistically, you probably cannot offer all of these options. However, you should take careful consideration of what others are offering at their time of hire and try to beat them.
A supremely undervalued veterinary trend is utilizing tuition reimbursement. You can offer to help pay a certain amount of tuition to a veterinary professional student or graduate conditional on how long they are to work at the practice and their overall grades. Not only does this help reduce the financial burden on the individual, but it helps solve the overall industry staffing shortage by encouraging individuals to earn their education!
3. Access to Mental Health Care
Access to mental health care has been trending for employees regardless of their industry. It is starting to be seen as a necessary addition to healthcare wellness plans and practices due to excessive employee burnout.
Dr. Clinton Neil, a professor at Cornell University, organized a study that utilized personal research and research provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association to show that over half of American veterinarians practicing within the industry are experiencing burnout.1
In order to keep the staff you have healthy and happy, you should consider an insurance wellness plan that has access to affordable mental health care for full-time employees. Additionally, it could be beneficial to consider allowing a set number of ‘mental health’ days that can be used as sick PTO. This may help alleviate the burden of a staff member feeling overworked without necessarily feeling sick.
Lastly, it is imperative that staff members have access to resources if they are experiencing compassion fatigue or burnout. If you do not have any recommendations locally, you may consider directing staff to Not One More Vet’s (NOVM) website verbally or have their information listed in the break room for easier access.
Ensuring you are checking in with your staff to see if they need anything on occasion will also go an awfully long way.
4. Utilization of those Credentials
Use. Those. Credentialed. Techs! They did not go to school for nothing! Tech appointments give your business an incredible, cutting-edge advantage to utilize the most out of what your technicians can do. Tech appointments can be any of the following services and much more:
Basic vaccines (excluding rabies)
Client education talks
Technicians are the backbone of the veterinary industry. They live and breathe for these services because their schooling has enforced knowledgeability and efficiency in these tasks. Don’t slack here because, as you know, the phrase is ‘use it or lose it’ for many people in the medical industry. If their skills are not utilized on a regular basis, they will get rusty.
The utilization of credentialed technicians within the industry will free up your time to see and diagnose more critical cases, see more telemedicine patients, and additionally prove to your clientele that your staff is not only knowledgeable but also educated.
5. Client Education
This trending topic within the industry can be tricky because it takes a lot of work.
The goal in veterinary medicine, other than treating pets in need, is to educate clients on proper care, right? This can be done by utilization of social media.
When you, or a professional within your practice, take the time to educate your clients via social media and/or pdf documents in the office, you can help address common ailments, illnesses, and diseases well before they occur.
Many pet owners mean well, but sometimes proper species education on common issues is lacking. This is where your professional expertise can be utilized. By using your credentials and platform, you can educate owners and potentially prevent suffering in their pets.
This is a rather tedious process, but, if done properly, it will decrease the number of patients needing to be seen for critical care services.
Our tips, tricks, and expert advice
What are the current challenges facing the veterinary industry?
The veterinary industry faces increased patient numbers, a shortage of qualified veterinarians and technicians, and widespread burnout due to high workloads.
What are the main issues faced by all veterinary practices?
The main issues faced by all veterinary practices are increased patient numbers, shortage of qualified veterinarians and technicians, and staff burnout.
How can telemedicine help tackle challenges in the veterinary industry?
Telemedicine can increase capacity by handling minor issues virtually, reducing physical workload, and allowing for more efficient use of resources.
Keeping up with the Times
Society is changing quickly and unfortunately, the veterinary industry is not immune. Adaptability is key to adversity to addressing the increases in patients and decreases in staffing within this industry. By following the above advice, your supply and demand dilemma will be addressed, and can ensure your practice remains the top-notch center for animal health.
Change can be difficult, but you are an agent of change in the lives of the animals you treat. Follow the 5 pieces of advice listed above from DVMElite right now and your practice is sure to reap the benefits! Do you need some additional assistance? Talk to one of our practice coaches today and we can get you started on the path that is right for you.
“Burnout Takes a Heavy Financial Toll on Veterinary Medicine.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Cornell University, September 22, 2022.