The culture and relationships within a veterinary practice may have a significant impact on the success of a veterinary hospital, according to survey data revealed during the American Animal Hospital Association 2016 State of the Industry presentation.

The AAHA 2016 State of the Industry, which was presented during the AAHA Austin 2016 Yearly Conference, examined data from a fall 2015 survey AAHA conducted with the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver that studied organizational culture in veterinary practices. AAHA Chief Executive Officer Mike Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP (C/F) shared the survey results along with an update on economic data from IDEXX Laboratories April 1.

The culture study surveyed over 1,000 veterinary hospitals to study the qualities of organizational culture in veterinary practices, evaluate the overall and specific subcultures in veterinary hospitals, and determine how culture affects veterinary practice metrics.

Key findings of the culture survey include:

  • Perceptions toward training and career development as well as staff relationships with veterinarians are positive.
  • Perceptions toward institutional fairness and communication as well as rewards and recognition can be improved.
  • Less positive perceptions of culture are held by employees with little decision making power and lower wages.
  • Positive perceptions of overall culture are held by employees in management/administration.
  • Higher production per FTE veterinarian is associated with more positive cultural scores on leadership, employee involvement, and supervision.
  • Fewer employees and lower gross income are associated with more positive cultural perceptions on leadership, teamwork and staffing, and relationships with veterinarians.
  • There is a positive relationship between AAHA accreditation and both perceptions of culture as well as practice metrics.

"The data from this survey will allow practices to look introspectively at their hospitals and take a hard look at how their practice culture may be affecting their business success," Cavanaugh said. "It's encouraging to see that AAHA-accredited practices tend to have more positive perceptions of practice culture and more success in their practices - because of the teamwork and collaboration we see going into the accreditation evaluation process, it's a no-brainer that accredited practices do well with regard to culture and metrics of success."

Interestingly, associate veterinarians gave somewhat lower scores to many aspects of culture, while employees holding positions in management/administration had more positive perceptions. These results suggest a possible divide between associate veterinarians and their managers.

On the economic front, data from the 2016 State of the Industry indicated that more practices have moved into the "Outgrower" category of practices that demonstrate growth of more than 10 percent year-over-year. Thirty-five percent of practices are now considered Outgrowers, compared to 24 percent from the 2015 State of the Industry.

Other key points from the economic data revealed:

  • Active patients in 2015 grew 2.6% relative to 2014
  • Patient visits in 2015 grew 3.2% relative to 2014
  • Overall practice revenue in 2015 grew by 6.4% relative to 2014
  • Outgrowers exhibit 8.7% growth in active patients
  • Growers exhibit .9% growth in active patients
  • Decliners exhibit a 7.1% decrease in active patients

"We know that successful veterinary practices such as Outgrowers focus on strengthening bonds and building relationships," Cavanaugh said. "We'll see that category continue to grow as more and more practices focus on strengthening the bonds and improving culture within their own practices.

Additional information about the AAHA 2016 State of the Industry presentation is available on aaha.org.

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