In 1992, Dr. Tom Cat hosted the first gathering of the Veterinary Consultants' Network. Almost 30 of today's nationally recognized practice management consultants gathered in Golden, Colorado to discuss issues related to the veterinary consulting field. It was stressed that this group of consultants would not be a formal organization, but merely a forum for those who are interested in sharing ideas, experiences and suggestions for improving the profession. Here's what the participants said are the characteristics of VCN (ranked in order according to the Delphi approach of consensus):
Characteristics of VCN Participants
Common Beliefs of the Participants
- Believes this is a service industry.
- Is multi-disciplinary (non-veterinarians included) and business oriented.
- Has business & management training and experience.
- Has multiple practice experience.
- Sets the standards for effective veterinary practice management.
- Endorses quality-based care programs.
- Has cross-sectional aims.
- Is proactive to change dynamics.
- Is a marketer of industry -- support and belief in association-directed marketing of veterinary medicine.
- Provides continuing education.
- Believes the group is expansive and inclusive.
- Commitment to the veterinary profession; promotion of the veterinary profession.
- Every practice is unique & must be assisted individually to meet their needs.
- Promotion of the veterinary profession as a quality service profession.
- Commitment to veterinary practice management.
- Consultants are educators/teachers.
- Commits to network resources.
- Consultants are an integral part of a practice's business team.
- Consultants must be beyond reproach and set a standard within the profession.
- Assistants to veterinary profession, pets and the client.
- Extenders of veterinarians.
At the forefront of the agenda was the desire to establish a set of voluntary standards for consultants to follow. After the meeting, questionnaires were sent to over 60 consultants across the country for their recommendations. The results were compiled and again sent back to the consultants for prioritization. None of the recommendations were ever dropped or deleted during the process! Here's the final Code of Ethics endorsed by the participants of VCN:
Responsibilities of Consultants
Consultant Behavior to Seek
Consultant Behavior to Avoid
- Up-to-date knowledge of veterinary practice management.
- Clarity of fees and expenses, with some type of estimate of additional time and cost for potential supplemental services.
- Expectations for specifically defined issues (goal oriented).
- Follows accepted principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics.
- General business and management expertise (avoids "tunnel vision").
- Ability of consultant to keep current with the profession.
- Confidentiality with full disclosure of conflicting interests.
- Positive attitude to refer to others more skilled in specific areas of management.
- Use of the practice staff as healthcare team members.
- Goal of individualization of solutions to each practice.
- Ability to effectively communicate with doctors and staff.
- Client/patient-centered systems.
- Real experience quoted - no partial truths.
- Ability to follow-up and determine effectiveness.
- Net worth to practice based in quality healthcare programs.
- Guarantees of success without knowledge of the practice.
- Promises of a quick fix.
- Providing a service without a working knowledge of the veterinary profession.
- Exciting solutions beyond the resources available - offering solutions that will be unattainable with the time and training resources that are available.
- Kick-back of "finder fee" referral systems.
- Breech of confidentiality and bait and switch techniques -- offering one course of action and costs as a consultant, then switching to something much different and more expensive after starting the consult.
- People who claim they are something they are not.
- Front people from larger non-profession organizations.
- Vague or unclear statements of services and solutions offered.
- Lack of long-term commitment/plan/consequence resolution.
- Template solutions.
- Fees with loose expense reimbursement clauses.
- Over-promise and under-delivery; too good to be true claims.
- Promoting oneself at another's expense.
- Fee-based marketing (as opposed to service-based).
- Undercutting prices.
During the balance of the 1990s, various National consultants hosted the VCN gatherings, usually at major meetings. It was a voluntary rotation, with no strings attached, in an attempt to prevent any one consultant group from gaining an unfair advantage. Dr. Tom Cat maintained the list of interested and participating consultants, and provided if freely to whoever wanted to host the next meeting. Then in 2002, the Association of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants and Advisors (AVPMCA) was formed, and Dr. Tom Cat offered them the VCN mailing list of consultants as well as the code of ethics above. They developed their own code of ethics, and established Committees to handle issues raised by members of the profession about individual consultants and/or consulting services.
Regardless of how someone selects a consultant, please remember to check several references for any practice management consultant you are considering. Just because they give you a list of names doesn't mean that all of those practices were satisfied! Be sure to ask references if they receive any remuneration for their endorsement (money, goods or services). And when in doubt, ask trusted colleagues for their advice about a consultant's reputation!
Have a question about VCI? We still follow the above Code of Ethics, as well as subscribe to the AVPMCA Code of Ethics (www.avpmca.org) . We support, endorse and actively integrate into our consulting the AVMA Code of Ethics and AAHA Standards for Veterinary Hospitals. Dr Tom Cat has published 17 books, and over 33 monographs; our initiatives, standards and beliefs are easily available in public domain. Please contact us for more information about our consulting services.