New, outdated challenges beg for radical change in veterinary occupation

Almost eight months into the pandemic, it almost feels like we are living in an alternate reality, says Matthew J. Salois, PhD, AVMA chief economist.

Social distancing. Virtual schools and offices. Rampant unemployment in a shaky economy. Racial accounting in a polarized society. Here in the United States alone, more than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19, he said.

But, as Winston Churchill once said, never let a crisis end. To do that, you have to ask yourself what can be done better, said Dr. Salois.

“We have to do better because we have to overcome the alternate reality of COVID. Because at some point we have to return to our original reality. The reality that was before this. Why? “He asked.” The challenges that existed before the pandemic are still there and we cannot forget them because while we stay in an alternate reality, our original reality is not taken into account. “

In his keynote address on the first day of AVMA’s annual business summit, held virtually October 26-28, Matthew J. Salois, PhD, AVMA’s chief economist, discussed three realities veterinarians face that need to be addressed create a more economically sustainable profession. (Enlarge)

Change is a constant in everything we do, said Dr. Salois during his keynote address on the first day of the annual AVMA business summit, which took place from October 26-28. In order to remain adaptable, people need to have principles that enable them to respond to the changes that lie ahead. He explained that the summit is not about providing rules and instructions for solving economic challenges, but rather about outlining principles on the subject of transformation through collaboration at the meeting.

In his lecture, Dr. Salois are three realities veterinarians face that must be addressed in order to create a more economically sustainable profession.

The first reality: almost a third of the country’s pets don’t see a veterinarian at least once a year. That equates to over $ 7 billion worth of veterinary care that is not delivered to animals.

“And this adds to the reality you deal with every day. That means two-thirds of the pet owners you see may not be following the recommendations for grooming,” said Dr. Salois.

Surveys of pet owners who do not see a veterinarian regularly suggest two underlying problems. Either these owners don’t see the value or they don’t believe they can afford veterinary care.

“When we’re honest with ourselves, the cost of veterinary care isn’t always the most transparent, at least not all the way to the point of sale, and the benefits aren’t always clear to the owner either. We need to establish our value proposition, demonstrate the value of veterinary care, and do something about ever-increasing prices, especially when the perceived benefits may not increase at the same time. “

The second reality: most practices struggle with inefficiency.

This comes from data from AVMA surveys of practice owners, which collect information on inputs such as the number of clinic employees or examination rooms and outputs such as the number of patients seen in a week and the income generated. This information is then analyzed and used by the AVMA business team to provide insights into the efficiency of the profession.

Dr. Salois said that 15 to 25% of clinics fall in the high efficiency range – or 90 to 100 on a 100 point scale – followed by another 15 to 25% in the medium range of 70 to 89. That leaves 50% to 70 % of practices in the low to very low impact range.

“We have to fix that. So many things can influence this: positive leadership; better use of staff, especially veterinary technicians; smarter inventory management; financial standardization and the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) chart of accounts; and better pricing strategies, ”said Dr. Salois.

The third reality: only a third of veterinarians would recommend others to join the profession. This emerges from the abstract of the Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study II published last June (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2020; 256: 1237-1244).

Dr. Salois said that while the veterinary profession is in the midst of an era of exciting dynamism and change, with the advent of new technologies and innovations to better care for pets while providing added value and convenience to pet owners, the profession is also dealing with significant challenges that are daunting and appear insurmountable. These include burnout and compassionate fatigue, the elimination of educational debt and financial insecurity, gender pay inequality, lack of racial diversity, and the prevalence of suicide and psychological distress.

Dr. Salois told a story about how redwood tree roots are very shallow, often only 5 or 6 feet deep. But they make up for it, sometimes extending up to 100 feet out of the trunk. They thrive in thick forests where the roots can intertwine and even fuse together, helping them hold each other up and withstand the forces of nature.

“If we want to grow and develop this profession into what we want, if we survive the storms of life, if we become everything we can become, we cannot do it alone. Said Dr. Salois. “We have to dedicate ourselves to each other. There is no set of rules for this. There’s no guide on how to transform yourself or create a more meaningful collaboration. “

“That doesn’t mean we don’t do things – we do good things, important things. But many of the things that are being done are too convenient to have the real impact we want and need, ”said Dr. Salois.

What is needed is open, transparent, and honest discussions about these topics, especially at meetings and conferences, as well as trying out something else.

“Something bold, maybe even risky. Something we would never have done before. The more radical the better. Because if the input is not radical, none will be the result, ”said Dr. Salois. “Our job is too important not to have it.”