From single-site to multi-location veterinary hospital in six weeks
I began my career in veterinary medicine as a part-time receptionist about 21 years ago after working in corporate software development. Little by little I began taking responsibility for leadership roles, eventually becoming practice manager. Team members who didn’t like being held accountable eventually left. The core team remained, imposing our high standards on all new staff. Our pet hospital is now one of the leaders in the community. We have earned respect not only from our customers but other local veterinarians as well.
Opportunity for growth
About a year and a half ago one of the veterinarian-owners and I were discussing future opportunities for the practice, and we decided a satellite location might be a good option. So I began to evaluate our prospects. We considered such factors as the kind of clinic we wanted to offer, the nearby neighborhoods, existing veterinary practices, and available space.
Finally what seemed like the right opportunity came along. A nearby veterinarian had passed away, leaving his clients in the hands of relief veterinarians for about a year while his wife tried to sell the practice. When she finally closed it, I decided that this was a good prospect for us. It was a risky venture—the community did not have a lot of near-future growth potential—but the residents needed a veterinarian.
After a preliminary evaluation, I presented the idea of renting office space and running the clinic as a wellness center. Our main hospital was about 15 minutes away and we could refer complex cases there. This seemed like a reasonable solution to expand our client base and provide services to an area that needed us.
The owners agreed, and in six weeks we were seeing new patients. The space is now finished and our clients are very happy we moved to their community. But it wasn’t an easy road.
Challenges along the way
This was my project, and I ran it from beginning to end. My first step was finding the perfect space for our new clinic. I learned of an office building being used as a dumping ground for old, unused things no one knew what to do with, and I realized right away that it was a diamond in the rough. This office was located on the main road heading into town and drive-by traffic was heavy.
After negotiating a lease agreement on the building, I began the design phase. My husband is an AutoCAD wizard, and together we laid out the interior—again and again and again until it was perfect. We continued to adjust the layout as the project progressed.
Next, with the help of my technician manger, I purchased medical equipment, hired a technician and receptionist, lined up a contractor and picked out materials. The new staff contributed to the final selection of the floor and other important decorative design choices such as the awning. Together we were able to get all of this done before the expected start date.
Amazingly enough, the project started on time. However, I had many problems to overcome along the way. One was to negotiate more space from the neighboring tenant. Before the project even started I knew we’d need the space because I envisioned a very successful endeavor. Not only did I have to talk the neighbor out of space he was using, but I had to convince the doctors we needed it and to pay for it.
In the end the neighbor was happy with the results. We took over half of the unfinished back portion of the building, added a well-insulated wall between us, and built separate bathrooms. All of this served to reduce his gas and electric expense. We also let him take as much shelving as he wanted.
The most complex portion of the project was the computer interface with our existing office. My initial conversation with our IT support was “Oh, you just need a VPN [virtual private network]. Call your internet provider and they can help you.”
So after calling our internet provider, I went to the local Microcenter and purchased the necessary equipment for our VPN, new computers with their accessories, and a plan of attack. We also needed a high-speed connection on both ends of the VPN. After an extremely challenging time getting the VPN installed, I was told we would need a new server. Apparently our existing server was not compatible with supporting the second location.
I presented the different options to the doctors. One was to simulate a portable computer. The down side was that it would have to be synchronized with the main clinic every night and the data would not be current for patients transferring between clinics the same day. That would be difficult to maintain long term. Another option was to have a separate server for the new location, but we wouldn’t have a joint database.
I recommended that a new server be purchased and installed at the main clinic and the two locations be networked. This was the choice we made. Computers are difficult to network even without two locations, so this was a huge project all on its own.
Fighting through to success
Throughout this project I had to fight new fires as they popped up—from finding the right electrician to opening new bank accounts to reassuring the practice owners that this was still a good idea! At one point one of the partners was ready to shut down the project. We had reached our budget limit and were only about halfway through the construction. The other partner and I put our heads together and came up with a solution—to take a loan from the main clinic and pay it back out of the profits until it was all recovered. My job was on the line. If this project did not work out, it was highly likely I would lose my job.
In the end, the new satellite clinic has been a great achievement and success. The community is thrilled that we moved in. We began with one receptionist and one technician, but we quickly reached about 85 percent appointment capacity and had to hire our second technician.
We have added a full in-house lab (thank you, IDEXX) and are considering radiography. We have been growing steadily since we opened. This project has been great for our hospital and a nice addition to the community.