Dr. Karen Felsted: Strong Client/Doctor Relationships Drive Veterinary Visits

The Bayer study identified a number of attributes that practices who continue to grow during this challenging economy have in common.  One of these is that clients in the growing practices generally see the same veterinarian every time they visit.  But this isn’t what happens in all practices but any means.  As you can see from the graph below only about one-third of the practice owners in the study completely agreed that this goes on in their practice with another 19 percent somewhat agreeing with the statement.

Think about when you take your kids to the pediatrician or when you visit your own doctor.  Do you want to see just whoever happens to be there when your appointment time is?  Or would you rather see a doctor you have a relationship with and who has a personal understanding of your health and your history?  I have asked this question in numerous seminars and about 95 percent of the attendees want to see the same doctor.  Why is it any different with people and their pets?  A pet owner is much more likely to agree to a recommendation even when it is expensive, complicated and scary if they know and trust the doctor who makes it.

There are a couple of reasons why practices don’t encourage seeing the same doctor every time—one is that it sometimes doesn’t fit the appointment scheduling method used in the practice and another is because practice owners are afraid that if associates have too much of a bond with clients, they will steal them away if they go to work at another practice.  While these can be legitimate issues within a practice, there are better ways to deal with them than by discouraging the building of these bonds.

See all of Dr. Felsted’s blogs.

Dr. Karen Felsted: Are we Sure the Recession isn’t the Whole Problem?

It would be great to think that the recession has been the most significant cause for the
declines in veterinary visits and when the economy improves, life will be good again but it just isn’t so. We know that veterinary visits started declining about 10 years ago, well before the 2007 recession. And while technically the recession ended in mid-2009, it doesn’t seem that way for many pet owners and many practices. According to the Bayer study, 51 percent of practices reported a drop in visits during the first two years after the recession ended with 1 out of 6 reporting declines of 10 percent or more. Another 14 percent of practices were flat and 34 percent were growing.  Revenue trends followed suit with 42 percent of practices reporting lower revenues in 2010 than in 2009.


veterinary visits May 2009 to May 2011


But what is really significant when you look at the data in the Bayer study is the
information about the 34 percent of practices that have reported growth in the post-recession period.

Only 15 percent of the practices surveyed in the Bayer study said the recession had had little or no impact on their local area.  Another 51 percent said the recession had had a moderate negative impact and about a third said it had had a significant negative impact. It would be easy to assume that the practices who are growing are located in areas not impacted much by the economic challenges. However, that just isn’t what the study showed.  Actually, two-thirds of the practices that continued to grow were in areas that were moderately or significantly negatively impacted by the recession. What this tells us is that its still possible to grow in this economy. It’s important not to use the recession as an excuse for the lack of growth.

What do you think these practices have in common or are doing that sets them apart?

Dr. Karen Felsted asks: What do you think is causing the decline in veterinary visits?

Using the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study to Bring More Pets and Pet Owners into Your Practice

You’ve probably heard about the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study; you’d have to have been living in a cave not to. The study was released last year and identified the most significant reasons veterinary visits have been declining and, more importantly, what you can do about it. This study is arguably the most actionable piece of work ever undertaken in veterinary medicine and many of the findings are easy to implement in your practice.

Let’s talk first about some of the trends we’ve been seeing in veterinary medicine over the last decade. There is all sorts of evidence that demonstrates pet visits, new clients, active clients, transactions, patients per veterinarian per week and the percentage of pet-owning households who visit a veterinarian have all been declining over the past 5-15 years. Whether you look at pet owner studies or veterinary practice activity studies, you see the same downward trends. What is particularly concerning is that these downward trends in veterinary care usage occurred during a time when the pet population was increasing.

One of the most important things to remember is that all of these declines started before the recession. The recession certainly exacerbated the situation, but its not the root cause of the decline in the use of veterinary care. Unfortunately, we as a profession largely ignored these declines because our practices seemed to be otherwise doing well financially—revenue was growing at a rate well above inflation and veterinarian compensation and take home earnings were also increasing.

Before we get into the findings from the study and the changes that practices should focus on, let’s hear from you. What do you think has been causing the decline in veterinary visits.  And what do you think has been the most significant factor?

A meaningful trip to the Zuni Indian Reservation

Zuni ReservationThis past April, I was fortunate to put my veterinary medicine experience to use in volunteer work on a Zuni Indian Reservation in western New Mexico. The program in which I did my volunteer work is called Native American Veterinary Services (NAVS). NAVS is a division of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Foundation. Through the efforts of volunteer veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other assistants, NAVS provides free veterinary care for Native Americans living on reservations throughout the United States. There are two trips each year, one each in the spring and fall. Participants, spend 1-2 weeks at the reservations depending on their individual allowance.

Zuni ClinicThe morning after our flight we drove to the clinic site. The site was on the outskirts of  the local town. Upon arrival, we saw a prefab mobile unit and a shed — these were to be our clinic. This was a far cry from the pristine modern buildings many of us were used to working within but we knew it’s not the looks that count so much as the work that was to get done. After check-in and introductions to the other volunteers, we all got to work setting up the clinic and getting ready for the week of work ahead of us. We had a team of seven veterinarians, six veterinary technicians, and about six other assistants. We were running a spay/neuter, vaccination, and medical treatment clinic for dogs and cats.

Zuni SheepAdditionally, we had the opportunity to provide medical care for horses, sheep, and cattle off-site. On Saturday, our first full day of clinical, an unexpected blizzard meant rescheduling, our first trip to vaccinate 40 sheep and 20 horses. Our surprise at the blizzard turned to relief when we saw the weather forecast would be nice the rest of the week with a high on Tuesday of 80 degrees and sunshine.

For the rest of the week, we either teamed up and went onsite doing work on the local sheep and horses or stayed at the clinical site working on all the animals brought to us. The Zuni people love their pets and were extremely appreciative of the work we did and the care we provided for their animals. Without the work of NAVS the animals on this reservation would have received little or no medical care. As unsettling as this might seem, it meant all the work we did took on an even greater importance to each of us.

Zuni HorseThe entire NAVS experience is something I will always cherish. Being able to help the Zuni people, their pets, and their community through doing the work I love was truly a privilege. To me, veterinary medicine is a profession of the “Heart.” My volunteer experience in Zuni is one of the best examples of “Heart” that I have witnessed. The
caring and commitment of the 20 plus volunteers was amazing. The love the Zuni have for their pets, and the gratitude of the Zuni people for our efforts was beyond touching.  To top off the experience we all knew our work made a difference in the lives of many animals. The memory of this week is a gift I will always carry with me.

Thank you to NAVS, the Zuni people, and the veterinary profession for making this experience possible.

Suzie Weaver


Paradise Animal Hospital: Welcome to the Family

Last month we welcomed another amazing hospital to the CVP family. Paradise Animal Hospital has been serving the western Baltimore communities for more than 20 years. Dr. Cheryl Burke, our CVP partner, founded Paradise in her hometown of Catonsville, Md., in 1990.

“After 25 years of solo ownership it is exciting to have the support, expertise and energy that CVP brings to the table,” Dr. Burke said.

In addition to the great veterinary care provided by Dr. Burke and her colleagues, the hospital also offers canine rehabilitation services and sports medicine. And the hospital’s pet hotel is state-of-the-art and a great place to board pets — they walk their guests five times a day!

One of the great things that Dr. Burke and her team do every year is the “Spay-A-Thon.” Every spring since 1996, the staff of Paradise Animal Hospital, and local colleagues, gave gathered on a Saturday to examine, spay and neuter more than 60 cats. The hospital offer this service free-of-charge to financially strapped members of the community. The goal is to make a dent in the national problem of unwanted pets.

We’re thrilled to have Paradise as part of the CVP family.

Our New Senior Advisor: Dr. Karen Felsted

For the past few months we’ve been lucky enough to work with one of the preeminent figures in the veterinary world, Dr. Karen Felsted. Dr. Felsted is probably best known for her work on the ground-breaking Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study. Since its publication last year, the study has been discussed and dissected by every part of the veterinary community. The document is now the basis and business plan for many veterinary hospitals as they cope with the changing business of animal care.

Dr. Felsted has been sharing her observations with us and also some of our partner
hospitals. We are also happy to announce that Dr. Felsted is joining us as a
Senior Advisor and will be writing a series of blog posts for the site with
some of the more important conclusions from the study.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the team,” Dr. Felsted said. “I think CVP offers veterinarians a great option to both gain some business expertise to help with continued practice growth as well as a unique succession planning alternative.”

In addition to her work on the Bayer Study, Dr. Felsted has an impressive resume. She began her career as a CPA and later earned her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Texas A&M University.  After practicing small animal and emergency medicine for several years, she worked as a financial and operational consultant to general and referral veterinary practices for fifteen years.

She then spent three years with the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues as CEO before returning to business consulting, both with private practice and the animal health industry.

She has written an extensive number of articles for a wide range of veterinary publications and speaks regularly at national and international veterinary meetings.  She is the current treasurer of VetPartners, a past member of the Veterinary Economics’ Editorial Advisory Board, a member of the CVPM board of directors and the current treasurer of the CATalyst Council.

In 2011, she was awarded the Western Veterinary Conference Practice Management Continuing Educator of the Year.

Dr. Felsted, we’re thrilled to have you on the team.

Bernville Veterinary Hospital: Welcome to the family

Late last year we were fortunate to partner with our latest veterinary hospital, Bernville Veterinary Clinic. This is an amazing place with a true connection to its local clients. Dr. Steve Stephan founded the practice 22 years ago and grew it from a tiny home-location to the beautiful, up-to-date building it is today.

Dr. Stephan, as is the CVP custom, remains an owner and co-operator of the clinic. His team is highly committed to the care and welfare of the animals in the clinic. Dr. Lee Pickett, our medical director, joined the staff full time recently and she offers a wide range of special services including acupuncture and care for pocket pets, ferrets and rabbits. In addition, Dr. Heather Westfall has a big focus on older-pet issues.

We’re thrilled to have Bernville as part of the CVP family

Lessons from a favorite client

Thanks to one of our favorite clients at Aston Veterinary Hospital, I had the opportunity last week to visit a special food pantry, where patron’s pets get fed, too.


Loaves & Fishes Food
Loaves & Fishes Traditional “People” Food

Loaves and Fishes serves close to 15,000 low- and no-income individuals each year and has been doing so since 2001. It’s all-volunteer run, but it’s led by the pure will of its executive director, Linda Freeman. Linda and her team serve up boxes of food that cover five days of meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Just over a year ago our client, Jo-Ann Zoll, approached Linda and a bunch of her colleagues who run food pantries in Delaware County, Pa. Jo-Ann, in her roll as a volunteer at a local animal shelter, saw families dropping off pets because they couldn’t afford food. This drove her to try and formalize a pilot  project of pet food delivery, using the food pantry as a point of distribution.

Only a few groups said they were interested in helping pets — some felt it was too controversial. But Linda didn’t blink.

Jo-Ann Zoll & Linda Freeman
Jo-Ann Zoll & Linda Freeman

“We were very well aware our clients were taking the food we gave them for themselves and giving it to their pets,” she said.

So Jo-Ann started hauling bags of dry and canned food to the pantry, which is headquartered inside Prospect Hill Baptist Church in Prospect Park, Pa. Volunteers at the pantry break down the food into smaller bags, which are distributed to individuals each month. Today nearly 200 cats and 150 dogs get their food from Loaves and Fishes each month. Jo-Ann wishes it were higher, and she’s working on raising more money to support the cause.

Aston Veterinary Hospital is supporting Loaves and Fishes through a collection can at our front desk. The hospital is also working with its distributors to secure donated food as well.

– Michael