The #1 reason why veterinary practices are 10-15 years behind on innovation

Posted by Mark Olcott, DVM on Apr 19, 2016 12:00:46 PM

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I know you’re busy.  As a former practice owner myself, I totally get it.  But you need to make time to learn about new things.  Especially when it comes to new, non-medical innovations because, let’s be clear:  none of those cool toys, like a new ultrasound machine, matter at all to potential or existing clients.  

Let’s do a thought experiment.  Let’s say someone called your practice and described a technology that could get you 5-10 more appointments a week and transform your reminder compliance.  And said technology is likely to be embraced by about 40% of your clients, compared with 1% who use a portal or “eBusinessCard.”  And throw in the fact that Millennials now make up 60% of the US workforce and if you’re not mobile, you’re largely irrelevant to them.  

Would you want to hear more about that?  Would that be worth 20 minutes of your time to learn more, even if you ultimately decide NOT to use it?  How confident are you that this information would even make it to you?  More often than not, you’ve empowered someone at your practice to be a “gatekeeper” and they are keeping that information away from you.

Inertia is an extremely powerful force.  And usually negative.

This happens all the time for new, innovative companies working in veterinary medicine.  Receptionists declare, “The owner/practice manager would never be interested in that and then they’d be upset at me for wasting their time.”  There are just so many things wrong with that statement, from ignorance to presumptuousness to the implied insulation of management. Talk about a recipe for decline!  

In an effort to keep out the “sales types”, you may have unknowingly built walls around your practice that keep the new stuff out.  When you only let select people through, typically those who work for multi-billion dollar animal health brands, you are practicing in a vacuum.  News Flash:  those aren’t the companies doing the really interesting stuff.  You won’t find the innovative companies in the 100 x 100 ft booths at NAVC.  You’ll find them in the 10x10 booths near the back door because they don’t have enough points (and budget) to run with the big dogs.

So it’s no surprise that the average veterinary practice is 10-15 years behind the times when it comes to consumer technology.  And this isn’t cute or quaint anymore.  It’s a deadly threat to your practice.  If you think I’m wrong, have another look at all the downward sloping graphs in the Brakke study from 2012.  I look at those graphs and I see a profession that is becoming irrelevant to many pet parents.  A rising supply of veterinarians coupled with a flat demand for veterinary services is a very bad place to be.  

While there are myriad reasons for flat veterinary demand, I think at least part of it is due to lack of engagement.  If I’m doing business on Amazon, using Dropbox, or using Waze on a daily basis, my expectations are pretty high when it comes to simplicity.  When I call you or walk into your practice, is it like entering a 15-yr time warp?  Can I request an appointment via text?  Why not?

We don’t know what we don’t know

This is a major problem in big businesses and government where there is too much bureaucracy between customer and management:  feedback and innovation have trouble percolating to the top.  This can even happen in small businesses, where the problem isn’t a massive bureaucracy, but instead an insidious combination of apathy and being overwhelmed.  If the owner of your practice is so overworked (or “checked out”) that they can’t make time to learn about new NON-medical innovations, you are heading for trouble.  And I don’t think you have 10 years to figure this out either.  The pace of change is such that there will be some massive disruptions in our profession in the next 5-10 years as market forces hit us just like they hit every other industry.  The internet and software explosion has quite literally changed everything.

So what do I do about it?

How are you empowering your practice manager?  Do they know what your strategic priorities are?  Some pharma companies are doing a better job of being resources and moving away from “donuts and discounts” but remember that their sales rep's incentive is usually not to be an advocate for somebody else’s technology.  

Ask yourself another question:  When is the last time you talked with someone who is an expert on consumer technology?  Not medical technology or the newest diagnostics/procedures… expert on how your clients do business in the 21st century.  And not just social media either….those are fantastic platforms but there’s a lot more to modern marketing and client loyalty than Facebook.  

Talk to your front desk team and practice manager and tell them that you DO want to hear about any new consumer technology (i.e. app, reminder tool, appointment confirmation system, payment alternatives, etc..) that may come their way.  It won’t happen often but when it does, you’ll at least have the opportunity to consider it rather than having a well-meaning employee dismiss it out of hand.

Topics: Grow Your Veterinary Practice, Marketing For Veterinary Practices