Why it’s worthwhile to listen to what veterinary ‘outsiders’ have to say

(This week Greg O’Brien, MBA, is speaking about Wellness Plans (based on John Volk’s presentation, with his slides and his blessing) at the VetPartners meeting in advance of The CVC. I thought that was a good reason to bring this post  to everyone’s attention again. I’m flying to Kansas City today myself, and will also be presenting at VetPartners, on the Nationwide® | Purdue Veterinary Price Index.)

You’re all smart, or you wouldn’t be veterinarians. I can almost feel you all nodding your heads, mouths forming the answer to the question posed in the title of this post. Those of you a little closer to the beginning of your veterinary careers and not that far out of college might even be fighting an impulse to raise your hands.

Me! Pick me! I know!

But the fact is that we all know the answer: Yes. People who are not veterinarians have valuable insights to offer those of us who are.

That’s why so many of us reach out for help from other professionals, such as CPAs or attorneys. And that’s why we also value the advice of Certified Veterinary Practice Managers, and of course we all know how important the input is from veterinary technicians! We learn from our clients as well (or we should be doing so), from our entire hospital staff (not just technicians), and we learn from other health-care professionals such as physicians, nurses, or dentists. And why stop there? I know someone who learned one of the most important lessons of her life from a New York City cab-driver.

But an non-veterinarians with an MBA who owns veterinary practices? Can a veterinary ‘outsider” like that offer valuable insights to veterinarians, especially those who already own their own practices? The answer, again, is yes.

That’s why we at Nationwide have been asking just such a person to speak out in the veterinary community, even though he was somewhat reluctant to do so at first, for reasons that many if not most of you understand.

In the last year or so, you may have heard a talk by Greg O’Brien, MBA. In the last few months, we’ve asked him to talk about wellness plans, specifically our Preventive & Wellness Services, or P&WS (pronounced “paws”). He presented on our behalf at the beginning of the year to a Chicago VMA meeting, and not long after we asked him to be part of a panel discussion after the presentation of our VPI-Veterinary Economics Financial Healthy Study at the Western Veterinary Conference. Each time he spoke, he became an even more convincing advocate for wellness plans. That’s because they’re working out so well for the pets, pet-owners and veterinarians at the practices his O’Brien Veterinary Management owns in Illinois and Indiana.

As a veterinarian I well understand why the subject of veterinary practices that are not owned by veterinarians can be … sensitive. But after much internal soul-searching, we decided that an evidence-based approach to explaining why P&WS worked so well by a successful practice owner would truly resonate with an audience who understands the value of “evidence-based” much more than the vast majority of people do. You want numbers? You want results? You want a business case? Greg is all about that, and more.

But it’s not just about the numbers. He will tell from the minute he opens his mouth that what he loves most about P&WS is that it gives pet-owners and a veterinarians a way to provide pets with the care they need and deserve — and weren’t getting before P&WS. By breaking wellness care costs into comfortable monthly payments handled by a trusted, third party — VPI — everyone wins. And that’s the message Greg shares.

VPI's Curtis Steinhoff interviewed Greg O'Brien, MBA, about his experience with VPI-Preventive&Welness Services, or P&WS.
VPI’s Curtis Steinhoff interviewed Greg O’Brien, MBA, about his experience with VPI-Preventive&Welness Services, or P&WS.

The feedback he gave us on P&WS was helpful from the start, and the successes he was seeing in his practices validated our belief in the potential of what we had created at VPI. We believed our wellness plans offered both pet-owners and the veterinary community the opportunity to practice outstanding medicine without the impediment of those exam-room financial discussions we all hate so much. When Greg started communicating his fact-based views of P&WS we were so pleased that we quoted him in our P&WS brochure, and started using him as a consultant. When trade media such as Veterinary Practice News ask us for practice owners who could speak from a place of experience about wellness programs (for articles like this one), Greg has been one of the people we suggest reporters would benefit from contacting.

Given all that, it’s probably no surprise that we asked him to be a featured speaker at what we at Nationwide Pet call “In Focus,” a twice-yearly event during which all our associates get a high-level overview of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going as a company. And then we eat, and I only tell you that because you know what pressure it puts on all the speakers to be engaging, what with the aromas from food trucks wafting in from the parking lot outside the hall we rent for these occasions.

But no one seemed to be in a hurry to eat after Greg took the stage. While those of us who developed and work with VPI-P&WS live and breathe this important part of our company’s product line, most of the rest of the company has a less detailed view. After Greg’s talk, that was no longer the case. And those food trucks? Forgotten, by the attention he seemed to be getting from our associates.

Yes, he was that good.

Just before the event began, I noticed that Greg was checking his smartphone. I teased him a little for doing so, and he looked at me as if surprised that I would ask about it.

“I was trying to find out how many pets we have on P&WS plans at our practices,” he said. “Yesterday we had 696, and I was hoping we got to 700 before I start speaking. That’s a more exciting number, don’t you think?”

Actually, I didn’t think so at all: I thought 696 P&WS plans at two Midwestern veterinary practices — in place and working very well for everyone, pets included — was already plenty exciting. But I’m going to bring you a QandA with Greg when he has time to talk to me, and bet by then he’ll have hit 700. Stay tuned.