Could we work collaboratively with those we think of as competitors?

Erwin Hohn and Adi Nell are both Senior Partners at Medivet. Erwin has a postgraduate degree in sociology and an MBA. Adi has advanced clinical qualifications and has recently completed MBA studies.

What’s coming?
None of us knows what the future will bring. There’s been much written in the vet press and many meetings have been held to look at the challenges we face. Major issues included work-life balance and

Erwin Hohn

Erwin Hohn

financial viability, the rise of corporates and feminisation in the profession, as well as standards of care. There are others: business skills, student debt, lack of leadership, excessive regulation and legislation, lack of evidence-based veterinary medicine, competition from non-vets, online pharmacies, mobile veterinary clinics, the Internet and its legions of unqualified experts, the rapidly-rising cost of offering a comprehensive service, and rising client expectations, to name just some.

We propose a new model of working together that could change the face of veterinary care. This model offers new ways of working and solutions to many of these challenges.

In 1817, the renowned economist Daniel Ricardo came up with a novel idea: stick to what you do best. This has been proved successful over and over again – but, oddly, is often overlooked. If you do what you do best and I don’t compete with that, but offer another service that I can do really well, we’ll maximise our profits and can support each other rather than competing.

Can we apply this to our profession?

Theory into practice
In our practices, we play to our vets’ strengths by allowing each one to do what they do best. We’ll refer to each other internally or between branches in a group. That’s just what Ricardo suggested.

Adi Nell

Adi Nell

By expanding this principle, we could work collaboratively with those we think of as competitors, both veterinary and non-veterinary. This would serve to advance the health and wellbeing of our patients, not just cure or prevent disease.

We already do this to a degree: practices share out of hours work, for example, or refer to specialist centres. The problem with the referral example is it’s currently one way only – if a complex fracture repair turns into an amputation, could it not be referred back to you?

We can apply this more widely. Breeders could refer puppies to a small vaccination clinic. That branch does the vaccination, but sends the puppies to a larger practice for x-rays when they’re lame. In turn, the larger practice sends its inoculations to the vaccination clinic or small satellite, and they refer clients who want to buy puppies back to the breeder. I could, for example, support your investment in an MRI unit and you could support my laparoscopic surgery.

This is how many human community health programmes work all round the world, right now.

Pie in the sky?
This collaborative approach deals with many of the challenges the profession has identified. By specialising in what each party does best, costs are reduced and financial viability is enhanced. Those who do what they love doing have fewer problems with work-life balance. Corporates become part of the solution. And client expectations are much easier to meet if we play only to our strengths.

It’s easier to develop business skills for a narrower range of services than for a much broader one – and it’s easier to choose your own hours. That same focus makes regulators and legal compliance easier. Non-veterinary competitors become collaborators. Rising costs are controlled by the same narrower focus, and evidence-based medicine is enhanced by sharing outcomes.

This utopia may seem difficult to achieve. But there are simple, practical steps that we can take right now to make our lives more professionally fulfilling, less stressful and more financially rewarding.

Hohn, Erwin W (Sep 2014) The Development of Veterinary Community Health. Proceedings of the 39th World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress, 249-252.

Read more about Erwin Hohn→
Read more about Adi Nell→

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of either the RCVS or the BVA.

  1. Claire
    Claire says:

    Thanks for a well written article.
    I agree with the premise, it does of course make sense to ‘play to our strengths’ as it were, however I am concerned that fragmenting care like this will be unnecessary in many situations, and could lead to reduced client satisfaction. Primary care practitioners are excellent at providing a wide range of services, including in-house tests, and nurse-led clinics etc. In situations where the required skills or tools exceed those available, I would hope that all first-opinion vets already opt for referral where possible. But in terms of vaccination clinics, I imagine that passing a client back and forth between different groups/premises/organisations would be irritating for them, especially given the ‘supermarket’-like culture we are in, where most business models are moving toward centralisation of resources and diversification. I can just imagine the client saying “but, can’t you just do the vaccinations here? You’ve got a fridge after all?!”.

    • Iain Richards
      Iain Richards says:

      Collaboration requires trust. Trust will be earned by mutual professional respect for both the skills that one does not possess and a similar attitude towards client service. The example of vaccine clinics is therefore poor, based upon feedback I have had from practices with such entities in their region. The main purpose of these clinics is cheap product, not good service, so referring to them is, by definition,condoning poor practice (particularly with regard to out of hours).
      Co-operation does of course already exist and XLVets have been making a reality of this area for 10 years.



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