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July 10, 2018
September 25, 2017

Seven Steps to Excellence

Mark Opperman

Have you ever considered what makes a veterinary practice excellent? What does it take to raise a practice from average/good to excellent? Is it the medicine and surgery provided? Is it the customer service or the physical facility? In fact, what makes any business excellent? I have considered these questions and I believe that there are at least seven key elements that must exist in order for a veterinary practice to achieve excellence.

1. Vision

First of all, I am convinced that excellence comes from the top. This means that the owner or owners of the practice must have a vision of what they perceive to be excellence. They must be committed to that vision and unwavering in their pursuit of it. Of all the practices I have worked with throughout the years, the ones I consider to be excellent have owners who have a definitive vision about their practice and what they desire their practice to be. They are also open to outside assistance to help them achieve their goals. They surround themselves with people who have the skills, talents and abilities that they themselves do not have. In fact, I would say that most owners I have worked with who have what I consider to be excellent practices are visionaries. They are aware that they could never achieve the vision by themselves and they avail themselves of the services of others – consultants, architects, accountants, practice managers, etcetera – to help them achieve their goals.

2. Excellence of Medicine and Surgery

When I lecture about perception of value, I always say that clients can’t really determine the actual quality of a practice’s medical and surgical services. While this is certainly true, I also think that, to be excellent, a veterinary practice must provide a very high quality of medicine and surgery. Further, I don’t think a practice would be able to attract the quality of team members it needs to be excellent if it did not first provide true excellence in its services. Without question, one of the key ingredients of an excellent practice is providing an excellence of medicine and surgery.

3. Hire, Train and Develop “10” Employees

And while clients really can’t evaluate the quality of medicine and surgery provided by a veterinary practice – clients evaluate your practice based on what they see and observe. This is what I refer to as the practice’s “Perception of Value”. Think about this, “Do you know where your own medical doctor graduated from medical school? Do you know what his or her grade point average was upon graduation? Do you know when they last attended continuing education?” Your answers are probably “no” to all of those questions and the same can be said of what your clients know about you. The big difference is that in human medicine the doctor treats us, while in veterinary medicine the doctor treats the animal and the client may not be present. So clients determine the quality and value of your practice based on what they see and observe. For this reason, the quality of your team and the customer service provided are critical ingredients for achieving excellence within a veterinary practice. I am convinced that excellent veterinary practices value their team and the training of their team. Excellent veterinary practices put a lot of thought and effort into hiring “10” employees – they don’t just hire warm bodies. Excellent veterinary practices have formalized training programs and use phased training programs in the training of all their new employees. They are committed to providing continuing education and strive to help their team be the best they can be. Many excellent veterinary practices have profit-sharing programs for their team and reward employees as the practice achieves greater success.

4. Customer Service

We cannot overstate the importance of customer service. This is one of the key ingredients of an excellent practice. I’m not just talking about average customer service – but excellent customer service. What I am talking about is the practice that “loves their clients so much and cares for clients and their pets so well that clients do not want to leave that practice for fear of a harsher world outside their doors.” The minute you walk into such a practice, you know it is a special place. An excellent practice not only meets your expectations – it greatly exceeds them. Think about a Ritz Carlton Hotel. What makes it a Ritz is the customer service. An excellent practice is always clean and well-maintained; clients and pets are always greeted by name; there are amenities such as a client convenience center, child play area, and dog walking area; television or internet access may be available; team members think, “What can I do to make your visit more special?” and make every effort to exceed clients’ expectations; clients do not have to routinely wait in an excellent practice, the clients’ time is respected.

5. High Regard for Communication

There is a high regard for communication in an excellent practice. The practice strives to keep clients informed of what is going on with their pets. This may start in the exam room, where the doctor will verbalize their physical exam and provide a written report card for the client to take home with them. If the patient is hospitalized, the practice will keep the client informed about the status of the patient by phone, text or email. Written discharge orders are always provided and the practice follows up with a medical recall to the client. Excellent practices understand the importance of effective communication, not only with clients, but within the hospital itself. Team members are kept informed about patients’ care. And team meetings are held monthly or more frequently so everyone is always up-to-date on hospital policies and procedures as well as new products and services being offered by the practice.

6. Keeping Up With Technology

In looking at all the practices I have worked with over the years and that I consider excellent, another common denominator is that these practices keep up with technology. Another way to say this is that they embrace change; they do not fear it. On the medical side, they have digital radiology and the latest in surgery and anesthesia equipment. They are also prudent and may refer ultrasounds or other procedures they do not feel comfortable performing. Excellent practices do not need to be specialty or referral practices – they just need to be good at what they do. The need to keep up with technology does not only apply to medicine and surgery but to management as well. An excellent practice has a state-of-the-art practice management program. They use technology to enhance their image by sending email reminders and digital pictures to clients upon the recuperation of patients. They have a presence on social medial such as Facebook and Twitter, and have an amazing web site. Excellent practices embrace and use new technology to their advantage.

7. Management

Naturally, all this would not be possible without excellent management.   Excellent practices understand the importance of great management. I think it is fair to say that few veterinarians are also excellent managers. As I said earlier, an excellent practice is smart enough to know that they alone cannot make the practice a success and they surround themselves with people who have skills and abilities that they may not have. So another common denominator of an excellent practice is a highly skilled practice manager or hospital administrator. 

I think it is impossible to have an excellent practice without effective management. The practice must have current and up-to-date job descriptions, evaluations, performance reviews, protocols, standards of care and service, and most important, these must be taught and enforced within the practice.  For management to be effective, there must be a hierarchy of authority that works well together and is effective. Again, communication is critical and management must be able to communicate with each other and speak with one voice to the team at all times.

So what does it take to move a practice from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’? The answer is: A Lot. A lot of hard work and dedication by many people both inside and outside of the practice. But imagine what it would be like to be a part of such an excellent practice. What would it be like to own or work at a Ritz Carlton, to know that you are one of the best? To know you have achieved excellence in your profession; you won the gold medal! I have had the honor of consulting with many practices I would consider excellent and what is really exciting about these practices is that everyone in the practice knows they are a part of something very special. Team members in these practices are proud to be associated with the practice and share the vision of the owner(s). Interestingly, I have also found the joy that owners and team members derive from their practice carries over into their personal lives so that they seem to have excellence in their personal lives as well.

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