PRIVATE PRACTICE PARTNERSHIPS
In many underserved areas with low population density, a local animal clinic may be an important player in the spay neuter movement.
Companion animal overpopulation is a true public health, welfare and safety issue. Its far-reaching, costly, and negative consequences are a public burden that needs to be addressed. Collaboration between a private practice and a humane organization can make low income services possible without opening a new clinic or mobile unit. The key to success requires taking from components of a public health approach (high volume, easy access, and low cost) and import them into the private veterinary practice in order to create a high volume, low cost program that also creates a revenue stream for the service provider. This bridge is a vital component in creating sustainable low-income spay/ neuter programs in high needs communities.
Traditionally, the most well-known private practice model has been the voucher system, in which a reduced cost surgery is provided for a needy pet during a regular appointment slot. In this scenario, a humane society or municipal agency makes up the cost difference. In addition, some clinics provide a limited number of surgeries for free and simply accept a financial loss. While sometimes these are the only protocols that work, they don’t encourage high volume as there is generally a financial loss for the clinic.
Private practice models must generate a positive income stream in order to increase the volume of surgeries.
Using a private clinic on days in which they are otherwise closed or blocking out two or three hours each week enables the clinic and the program to thrive. Some people view a mobile spay/ neuter unit as an animal hospital with wheels, we view each regular animal hospital as a mobile clinic without wheels! Essentially, the private practice becomes a high volume reduced cost clinic for families who are otherwise not their clients. This model occurs for a set period of time that does not overlap with regular business hours.
This program is ideal for areas where no non-profit alternative exists and a local clinic has adequate time for these surgeries to not cut into their regular workload. Thereby, in-clinic clinics have the potential to become an added revenue stream for the private veterinary practice.
Detailed Breakdown of a Private Practice Partnership (PPP):
PPP is a low cost, easy program to start because the equipment and staffing are already in place. But there are limitations and it takes a lot of planning and dedication to get it and keep it on track.
The PPP separates the normal functions of a clinic into two vital parts, the clinic and the humane organization. The “front desk” is the humane organization, while the clinic provides the services. Some of the staffing is humane organization volunteers, while the veterinarian and their normal staff are the others. It sounds complicated but it works…
Surgeries divided equally between male and female, cats and dogs.
Eight to 10 surgeries (three hours) per week at an average of $55/surgery totals over$ 23,000 per year. Many veterinarians are able to do five to ten surgeries in two to three hours. Increasing the number of surgeries increases the revenue while increasing the effectiveness of the program.
A client co-payment of $25 is almost half of a surgery, and a small co-payment enables organizations to get 40-45 surgeries per $1000.
The differences between the once a week and the once a month models are outlined in the accompanying image.
How to start…
Start with an assessment of the area, the population, general pet care habits, local resources and outreach to possible partners. Private practice partnerships are ideal for small towns that lack nearby spay/neuter programs.
First, locate spay/ neuter programs in the region to see if they have spaces open for transport in order to increase their numbers. If not, and if a private practice partnership is your best solution, investigate the costs at regional spay/neuter programs. Those (plus a few dollars) will be the base price for this program.
Outline the services to have an understanding of all that is expected from everyone. This includes who will take calls, income screen, handle money and make sure paperwork is complete. Read more...
As things work out…
In order to provide four (or more) surgeries per hour on a regular basis, the veterinarian and volunteers should visit or watch a video of a two table spay/neuter clinic in action. The participating PPP clinic will ultimately need additional equipment to continue to hold high volume days and maximize their efficiency. Read more...
A few words of wisdom for the organizers and the clinic staff…
This program will not “fit” every hospital. It is aimed at making spay neuter affordable to those who would otherwise need to use a reduced cost service. If the veterinarian is uncomfortable providing surgeries without certain protocols, or has no down time, this simply may not work.
The private practice model can be a great start-up program, requiring little upfront money and a small crew of people. If organized properly, it can absolutely provide a positive revenue stream to the service provider. However, because it combines the non-profit mission and a private business all under one roof, private practice partnerships demand attention to detail.
If casual mistakes in the agreed upon income level are commonplace, the result can be damage to the relationship with the clinic. Make sure that check-in goes well, that folks arrive on time and that volunteers who are expected to be on-site are actually there. Be sure that the ratio of dogs to cats, males to females, are on track.
The clinic staff may be completely new to this effort and may not understand or even agree with your goals; communication is key to the relationship! Everyone has a stake in the success!
Screen incomes, not spending habits. The car people drive does NOT reveal their income level. If the pet owner has a “fancy car” they may be unable to purchase a home and choose to have a nice car instead; the car may belong to someone else. Full time minimum wage earners net under $15,000 per year; if they own a decent car that is their business.
Money is made by providing volume within the planned timeframe, not by having each client pay an extra few dollars. Many homes must “save up” to get the pet spayed, even at $55. Make sure people leave feeling good about getting their pet fixed, not guilty because they could not afford extras. Changing pet care habits requires good “word of mouth” after people leave.
If they “can’t afford to care for the pet they shouldn’t have it,” is a myth that punishes people and pets. Our data collection (from thousands of surgeries each year), reveals that over half of the pets we alter came to their caregiver as a stray or a free pet from a street corner or parking lot. Feeding and caring for the pet was an act of compassion, not an act of irresponsibility.
The private practice partnership requires good communication and the same level of organization and attention to detail that any other spay/neuter program requires.
The fact that the staff of the private practice did not get a job in a spay/neuter clinic, yet finds themselves in one for a day a week, can present challenges. The good news is that most people working in an animal clinic care about animals; negativity can be overcome by making sure they stay in the loop and understand how important this program is to the animals they’re helping.
Many will realize that indeed, these are NOT their regular clients and welcome the opportunity to help animals that otherwise will not come through their door.
Like any remote area service, the program may need to be combined with other types of services. More than any other program, a Private Practice Partnership forges new ground.
Let us know how it goes!
If you are interested in learning more about our programs or resources for your community please contact us.
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