Relationship between cart and horse a little confused - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Relationship between cart and horse a little confused

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

ALL the fuss about post-nominals
is of real interest to the profession
as a whole and, one suspects, of
particular interest to all individuals
who have worked long and hard for
those few initials after their names.

A hasty straw poll
among veterinary
surgeons has shown
a variety of emotions
ranging from outrage at
one end of the spectrum
to utter disbelief at the
other with a healthy dose of cynicism
somewhere near the middle; but the
discussion shouldn’t really be about
what we, inside the profession, think
about this but, rather, what the public
might think, given the inescapable fact
that the regulator is bound by statute to
protect the interests of the public and
not those whom it regulates.

As always, one is
left feeling that the
relationship between
the cart and the horse
has become a little
confused.

When we come to
look at what the public
wants or, to be more
specific, veterinary
clients of every type,
surely it is important
for them to be able
to find meaningful information simply and effectively and
for that information to be reliable.

As consumers, pet owners, horse
and yard owners, farmers and all
our other clients should be able to
rely on a straightforward method of differentiating between providers of
veterinary services without resorting to
some form of codified messaging.

There is no need to throw out the
strange and outwardly inexplicable
ways in which we differentiate between
qualifications achieved at our veterinary
schools or for post-graduate study but
surely this is the golden opportunity to demystify some
of our more
unintelligible
messaging and to provide the
information in an
easily assimilated
manner so that people
outside the profession
can understand the
things that, within the
profession, we hold to
be important.

Is that the role of the regulator? The
answer is probably
yes because it is the
RCVS which has the
responsibility of keeping
the public properly
informed.

Is there an opportunity
here for other veterinary
associations to make
a positive impact in bridging the
gap between our profession and the
apparently diminishing number of
clients? Of course there is and, while
we’re about it, why not get our heads
together, across the species divide, and
come up with some cracking pieces of
communication to let the public know
what a great job this profession does?

Why are
we waiting?

One could grow weary waiting for this
profession to set aside its professional
differences and work together to
propose a uni ed front with positive
and encouraging messages and we
fool ourselves if we think either that
someone else will do it or that it
doesn’t matter.

It does matter. It matters enormously
because not only is the face of
veterinary practice changing, there are
more and more opportunities for our
clients – real and potential – to buy
many of the elective veterinary services
elsewhere and not from practice.

If we think about it, small animal
practice is built without foundations;
other than for emergency medical
work on people’s pets, the continuance
of a relationship between pet owner
and vet is predicated
on the continuance
of the relationship.
If that sounds like a
pleonasm, it probably
is but how much
ongoing work do we
invest in maintaining
that relationship?

If one is a regular in
a pub, someone behind the bar makes
an effort to learn our name and what
we like to drink and, if I overdo the
purchase of nice things in my local
Greek deli, Spyros will throw in a
baklava, free, to recognise how much
he values my custom. He also e-mails
me to tell me about things going on
in his shop and invariably asks if
everything is all right.

That’s simple relationship building
but, all too often, our clients see a
different vet every time they come in
and, when did most of us ever ask for feedback from our clients? How can
we provide what they want when we
don’t know what they want because we
haven’t asked them?

The veterinary landscape is changing
rapidly. The recent merging of the
two leading joint venture partnership
groups has produced a large, well-run,
consumer-friendly operation which has
already made significant changes to the
ways in which pet-owning consumers
can interact with their small animal
practice.

Over time, we can safely conclude
that many more changes are to
come and that the overall ratio of
“corporate” practices compared to traditional ones will continue
to develop. If you had been asked
whether “corporates” would amount
to 35% of UK practices even 10 years
ago, most of us would have thought
that unlikely.

Look forward a year or two and
that figure looks conservative. I’m
not even sure whether the term
“corporate” even means very much
today as most individual practices now
belong to some form of association
or buying group where some of the
administrative functions and the access to better trading
rates are handled by
another organisation.

For most people
outside the profession,
their principal concern
is to be seen when
they want to be seen,
to get a result and for
the whole process
to be seamless and
hassle-free.

If we insist on questioning whether
the post-nominals are meaningful to
the public, we will end up encouraging
our clients to believe that there is no
meaningful difference between us. In
that situation, getting together to speak
with one voice will be akin to bolting
the door after the horse has left.

No problem though, we’d probably find it still arguing with the cart.

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