How an old veterinary hospital learned new tricks

How an old veterinary hospital learned new tricks

Four years ago, The Animal Medical Center in New York brought on a CEO with a fresh perspective. Find out how her secrets for success could benefit your practice, too.
Mar 01, 2014

When The Animal Medical Center, a renowned nonprofit teaching hospital in New York City, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, business was not at its strongest. Although the hospital had more than 38,000 patient visits that year and had trained upwards of 30 percent of the country's veterinary specialists, business was down due to a weak economy, declining caseloads, competition from many new for-profit specialty hospitals and a reputation for not being customer friendly.

That's when Kate Coyne stepped in and turned things around. Coyne had 30 years' experience in human medicine, starting as a respiratory therapist and working her way up to CEO at of one of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System hospitals in Livingston, N.J.

After retiring from Saint Barnabas, Coyne was offered the chance to turn around The Animal Medical Center (AMC). Within four years, Coyne and her team gave AMC the boost and direction it needed. Using the research company CalPro in a program initiated by Zoetis, Coyne was able to obtain a baseline of how their clients and referring veterinarians thought they were doing.

Through changes she implemented, AMC's caseload increased by 19 percent, and the hospital's financial picture improved substantially. Revenue has increased 26 percent since 2010 and client satisfaction is up by 25 percent.

While every hospital is different—small animal vs. large animal, small-town vs. big city, one doctor vs. a corporation—some strategies work for everyone. Human and animal medicine are amazingly similar in terms of basic business principles, Coyne says. Here, she shares some tips she used to turn AMC around, and she says these tips can help you improve your practice, too.

1. Offer a great product with a passion for service.

"Our business is service, and our product is veterinary medicine and care," Coyne says. By reiterating that mantra time and again, she helped change her team's mindset. But in every team, there's bound to be one person who says the pet is their focus, not the people.

"There's a person at the end of every leash," says Coyne. "The pet can't go out and say what great care you gave—the owner does that. We have to serve the client, not just the pet."

To help make the adjustment with her team, Coyne spent much of her time on the client floor modeling proper behavior. Staff members watched her interact with clients and pets, and soon they were imitating her positive attitude with patients and clients.

2. Provide training—and make it fun

To address the perception that AMC wasn't customer friendly, Coyne put mandatory customer service training programs in place for all staff members—doctors included.

"Anyone who received a paycheck had to attend," she says. "We had to improve our service level to remain in business."

Role-playing played a big part in training staff members and doctors to focus on service. "It's up to the front-office staff as well as our veterinarians to learn what clients need, to hold their hands and guide them through the process. It makes a huge difference in clients' impressions of your level of care."