Study explores secrets of highly efficient veterinary practices

By Katie Burns
Published: 25 November 2022
Updated: 27 December 2022


A study of 60 animal hospitals classified as high, moderate, or low efficiency revealed differences in scheduling, staffing, and other aspects of daily operations.

Frederic B. Ouedraogo, PhD, senior economist and associate director of economics in the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, shared these findings during his presentation “Improve Efficiency to Enhance Quality of Services, Increase Access to Animal Healthcare, and Build a Healthier and Stronger Workforce: Insights from 60 Independently Owned Companion-Animal Practices.” He spoke during the AVMA Veterinary Business and Economic Forum, held virtually Oct. 24-25.

“I am convinced that increased efficiency and value innovation is the key at this point to cope with change,” Dr. Ouedraogo said.

Chart: Average number of patients a full time veterinarian sees per day
A study of 60 veterinary practices identified the best practices as the ones that maximized efficiency, defined as the ratio of the weighted sum of outputs to the weighted sum of inputs. The study assigned an efficiency score of 1—or 100% efficiency—to the best practices, with all the other practices having a relative efficiency score.

In his study, the inputs were veterinarian labor, labor of veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants, labor of nonmedical staff members, fixed costs, and number of examination rooms. The outputs were revenue, patients treated, and number of appointment slots. In the sample, 25 hospitals were classified as high efficiency, 26 as moderate efficiency, and nine as low efficiency.

The study found that high-efficiency practices consistently operated nine hours per day Monday through Friday and about three hours on Saturday, and veterinarians were consistently available seven hours per day Monday through Friday to see scheduled appointments. In these practices, nonveterinarian staff members consistently used two hours to get things settled before the veterinarians walked in.

The high-efficiency practices reported up to a 45% higher number of daily appointment slots per full-time–equivalent veterinarian than moderate-efficiency practices did. The highly efficient practices also had more FTE veterinarians than the other practices did. In the high-efficiency practices, owner veterinarians worked fewer hours and associate veterinarians worked more hours, compared with the other practices.

Compared with low-efficiency practices, highly efficient practices reached 75% more patients per FTE veterinarian per day.

Assuming no changes in the way each practice was organized, in the number of veterinarians or support staff members, or to the physical structure, 60.0% of high-efficiency practices said they could increase visits by at least 10%, compared with 53.8% of moderate-efficiency practices and 33.3% of low-efficiency practices.

In contrast, if the practice were able to hire additional veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and support staff members and do minor remodeling to increase efficiency, with no square footage added, 88.9% of low-efficiency practices said they could increase visits by at least 10%, compared with 61.5% of moderate-efficiency practices and 64.0% of high-efficiency practices.

Dr. Ouedraogo’s first key takeaway for practices was to use data to track change in the veterinary industry and within the practice, creating conditions for positive response to change. His second key takeaway was to leverage all the practice’s team members to the fullest extent of their capabilities, while keeping them healthy and engaged.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated figures regarding the number of daily appointment slots per full-time–equivalent veterinarian and the number of patients that practices reach per FTE veterinarian per day.

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