2011 has felt like the year of the Bayer Brakke Study. Most of what has been written in the world of practice management, seminars, and conversations between managers, have ended up talking about the Bayer Brakke study.

This was finally summed up for me when attend a one day workshop held at VSCoT by Butler, Bayer, and Jessica Goodman Lee, CVPM of Brakke consulting, on the study itself and what to do about it’s findings.

I felt it might be interesting for me to give my personal view point on some of what I took away from this presentation, the Bayer Brakke Study in general, and what it means for the veterinary profession, clients and pets, as a whole.

1: The profession needs to change and it needs to take the change seriously.

The 1998 Brakke study made 19 recommendations and the only one that was adopted by almost all veterinary practices was to raise fees. Now that was a good thing – fees need to rise, but the other recommendations we’re also important. Inventory management and reducing expenses, for example, were the recommendations with the next highest adoption rate and they were adopted by less than 50% of practices.

Just raising fees is fine when the economy is doing well, but does not bode well recessionary times and helps explain why visits are down and some practices are have had a significantly hard time over the last couple of years.

What was valid five years ago is not valid now – never mind 10 years ago.

2: Normalcy is not an excuse for inaction.

One of the elements that the study points out is that many practices believe that all they have to do is “weather the storm” and everything will get back to normal. What is currently being misunderstood is that the industry has changed. New competition, with different business models, have arisen partly in response to these challenging times, and who is to say that these will end anytime soon? Only 20% of practices expressed serious concern about the changing market place.

The other major issue is that business itself has changed. As Jim Lecinski points out in his book “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth” buying, consuming and even reviewing habits have changed. As a business you ignore these changes at your peril.

3: We Live, or Perish, by Communication with our Clients.

59% of dog owners and 56% of cat owners would bring their pets in more often if they could prevent problems and extensive treatments later on. The figures are almost identical when owners believe that their pet will live longer by bringing them to their veterinarian more often.

In addition, 56% of clients feel that their veterinarian does give them clear instructions as to when they should bring their pet in.

4: Cats – the Great Opportunity.

As I personally experienced while helping with the pet evacuation due to the Monument Fire in Sierra Vista, cats are woefully undeserved by the veterinary community. The bottom line is that cats do not get brought into the vet enough or sometimes ever. It is difficult for the owner, difficult for the cat, and difficult (from the client’s perspective) for the veterinary practice.

If a veterinary practice sees 25% cats and 75% dogs, and there are 13% more cats that dogs in the U.S. the opportunities are enormous both for the business of the practice and in improving feline health.

5: It is all about money – except when it is not.

Getting inventive about payment options, whatever they might be, are seen by clients as needed services. That does not nessecerally mean that veterinarians have to become banks, but it does mean that we can’t wash our hands of the financial issue. The practices that are able to provide options will find clients flocking to them. It is also important to note that choice is not always a good thing. It can send a a mixed message to clients who are looking for a recommendation. Pet insurance is an obvious area where having a practice provider of choice in terms of recommendations can make a big difference to clients.

Trumping the financial issues, however, is communication as mentioned above. If we do not explain the value of what we do and why we do it (exhibit A: the lack of feline visits) how can we ever expect clients to?

I can sum a lot of what I have written above by one word: Management.

The industry needs to embraise management (this may seem like a self serving argument as a practice manager, and to an extent it is, but it does also does not make it any less true) as a key ingredient for practice health. It is no accident that the Bayer Brakke Study shows that the variables most constistant with increased visits were: seeing the same veterarian every time, wellness exams considered the most important service, marketing and advertising as important to practice success, and the active use of social media. The variables most consistent with decreased visits were: advertising undermines credibility as a veterinarian and lack of referral arrangements with shelters, groomers etc. These are all areas where good management can make a significant difference. Managers have to be allowed to manage, but they also need to manage well.

Proper practice management is not just the responsibility of the managers. Of course, managers must manage, but there has to be a sea-change in understanding that proper practice management actually effects patient health and outcomes.

Just ask all those cats!

These are just my take always, any others or any other ideas? Lets here from you in the comments. Abuse, as always, very welcome.