Specialty, Emergency Veterinary Medicine Garners Increased Attention from Professionals

North American veterinary professionals in emergency and specialty venues have a new opportunity to network online year-round. The Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Practice Association (VESPA)created in June 2006 gives veterinarians, technicians, and practice managers a venue to stay interconnected, said founder Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM.

It is believed to be the second industry group created within the last four years to address referral and emergency care issues. Meanwhile, AAHA is researching best referral practices and the Association of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants & Advisors has identified specialty and emergency practices as a potential area for future growth.

The focused attention on referral doctors comes as no surprise to Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, who first offered a networking conference for specialists three years ago. Veterinary Specialists in Private Practice (VSIPP), an annual meeting, attracted 273 professionals in 2007 compared to 57 attendees in 2004.

“Specialists [represent] what is happening with the human/animal bond, or what clients are willing to do,” McVey said. And while many issues they face are similar to those experienced in primary care, referral professionals grapple with rapid growth – from zero to $3 million total revenue in one year – and the challenges that brings, he added.

Those challenges, and operational questions, prompted Dobbs to create VESPA. Although she had identified a growing need for venue-specific advice, Dobbs gauged industry interest by launching a listserv on the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association website, and had 78 members at press time. Membership provides professionals with newsletters and online connectivity. She has also scheduled several professionals to talk about training, safety issues, and the recruitment of veterinarians and hopes to incorporate the association this year.

“We have found that referring practitioners have their own, separate issues,” Dobbs said. “They’re similar [to primary care veterinary concerns] but they have a different swing. There are so many similarities [between general and specialty practices] yet there are major differences that were not previously being addressed” by other groups, said Dobbs.

Questions on the VESPA Listserv range from finding computer software tailored to referral practices to staffing night shifts in emergency rooms with highly-trained technicians, Dobbs said. Professionals are looking for benchmark data for referral clinics as well as guidance from colleagues on how to handle specific issues, she added.

Dobbs posted AAHA’s latest specialty benchmarking survey online and hopes to encourage more specialists to participate in future surveys though she recognizes the hesitancy to share data. “They sometimes don’t want to share that information,” she admits. Sharing that information may, however, be easier if it is limited to referral colleagues, she added.

After attending the third annual VSIPP conference, Dobbs does not see VESPA as a competitor and believes the group’s main role is to “keep the fires burning” between gatherings.

Similarly, McVey does not see VSIPP as a competitor to Veterinary Specialty Practice Alliance, a membership group formed in 1999 that represents 20 referral clinics. VSIPP is not a membership organization, McVey said, and added that the meeting is intended to be a networking opportunity to improve the delivery of referral services.

“I know how specialists think,” said McVey, who has run and consulted with specialty hospitals around the world. “I wanted to create a safe place where people could talk about their frailties.” Judging from its popularity, he has done just that.