A Walk in Their Shoes: PenBay Veterinary Services

Author: Bangor Savings Bank
Friday, December 16, 2011

Dr. Bjorn Lee needed a way to distinguish his veterinary hospital from competitors. His solution: Get the seal of approval of a respected industry association.


When Dr. Bjorn Lee opened PenBay Veterinary Associates in 2005 with his business partner they were determined that their business would meet the highest standards in the industry. But meeting those standards wasn’t enough to make the business successful. They also had to persuade animal owners in the Midcoast region that it was worth paying more for the high-quality care being offered.

Lee’s solution: become the first veterinary practice in the Midcoast area to receive accreditation from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). With the AAHA’s seal of approval, Lee had a concrete way of showing that his practice was different. But getting the accreditation—and persuading consumers of its significance—wasn’t easy.

The Vision

 Like many small business owners, Lee launched his business so that he could do things his own way. He wanted to provide more doctor-patient time and spend more time on education than the typical practice in his area. “We didn’t want a hospital where patients came just once a year for vaccines,” he says. “We wanted more emphasis on client services and teaching people how to take better care of their pets.”

Lee saw AAHA accreditation as the perfect way to distinguish his practice from its competitors and show a commitment beyond basic care services. He began planning for his business to meet the AAHA’s more than 900 standards long before the doors of the hospital opened. He even had his facilities designed to meet AAHA standards, which cover everything from dental care to human resources.

The benefits of high standards

Keeping the AAHA standards in mind from the start brought benefits beyond accreditation. For one thing, he avoided potentially costly renovations to the physical side of the practice. For instance, AAHA requires that hospital ventilation systems produce a certain number of air changes per hour to keep odors in check—a standard that would have been hard to meet if he weren’t aiming for accreditation at the design stage.

AAHA standards also required that Lee create something many small businesses tend to overlook: an employee handbook with detailed policies on topics ranging from vacation days to tardiness policies. “The handbook is great for our employees,” says Lee. “When a new situation comes up, we know where to look for guidance.”

Most importantly, however, the standards lead to better outcomes for patients and a better prepared staff. Lee singles out the surgical protocol associated with putting an animal under anesthesia as one example. He says that AAHA protocols call for more safety precautions and more monitoring, such as an IV catheter for every patient in surgery – a step not taken at many practices. “There is more equipment involved and it takes more time,” he says. “But the outcome is that there are fewer anesthetic problems.”

Spreading Awareness

Better patient outcome statistics come in handy when Lee tackles his other challenge: Higher than average costs due to operating at AAHA standards. “It’s ultimately more expensive for us to provide care, which means there’s a higher price tag for clients,” says Lee. “People could find some of our services elsewhere for less. So we have to educate client about the value of doing it our way, and that has been a challenge.”

Lee has spread awareness about AAHA and the unique distinction of being accredited through his open houses, information on his website, staff training, and literature he hands out to clients. The AAHA itself has sent out press releases to local media and taken other steps to publicize the hospital’s accreditation. Lee has noticed that the increasing number of his clients who are seasonal visitors to Maine need no extra education about AAHA. “People from Massachusetts and other parts of the country are much more familiar with AAHA, and they specifically look for a practice with its logo,” he says.

Investing the extra time and resources in achieving AAHA accreditation appears to have paid off. PenBay Veterinary experienced double-digit growth almost every year since its founding and is now grossing almost $1 million with around 2,500 patients. “Getting accredited was certainly challenging, but that process played an essential role in helping us fulfill our vision for this practice,” Lee says.

Source: http://www.bangor.com/Your-Business-Banking/Business-Insight-Center/A-Wa...


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