One of the most important numbers when measuring veterinary practice success

by By Martin Traub-Werner

7 min read

Imagine boarding a plane to your favorite destination. With anticipation, you get to the airport early, go through the chaos of boarding, stow your luggage, fasten your seatbelt, and sit through the safety demonstration. The captain then comes over the loudspeaker to tell you about the flight time and weather at your destination. Then something weird happens.

The captain says, “Ladies and gentlemen, there are a lot of things to do when flying a plane, and to simplify, we’ve chosen to focus on just one thing up here in the cockpit.” What’s the most important thing? Speed? Altitude? Fuel gauge? Direction?

The analogy works for veterinary data. You might say, “If I can pay attention to only one number in my veterinary practice, what should it be?” Picking just one number — like trying to fly a plane by focusing on one important thing — is virtually impossible. But there is a candidate for one of the most important numbers: net change in active patients.

Why an emphasis on net change in active patients?

Practices that focus on it have significantly less to worry about than practices that don’t. It’s not the easiest number to calculate, but when you do you can have confidence that your practice is truly growing and that the opportunity to serve a growing base of clients will alleviate some of the other pressures of managing your business.

What exactly is it?

Think of your active patient count like your bank balance. At the beginning of the month, you have some amount of money in the bank. Money comes and money goes. At the end of the month, you have a new balance. When the money you have in your account at the end of the month is greater than the money you had at the beginning of the month, you’ve created an opportunity. Sometimes this just isn’t possible and you run a deficit for a few months. But over the long term, deficits are not sustainable.

This is the perfect way to think about the active patients in your practice. At the beginning of the month, the number of active patients in your practice is X. Patients come and patients go. At the end of the month, the number of active patients in your practice is Y. It sounds simple, but there is some nuance and complexity.

What are active patients? Before we can calculate the net change in active patients, we need to decide what “active patients” means. Vetsource’s Practice Overview Report considers this to be patients with any transaction in the practice in the last 18 months.

Patients, not clients, are measured. Why? Because patients are the most basic unit of measure that you serve. If Mrs. Jones was in last month with her dog, Parker, then you might say she’s a good client who visits the practice. But if she’s leaving her two cats, Safari and Chopsticks, at home, then maybe she’s not as good as we’d like her to be.

It involves any transaction. Because any transaction — a refill, a food purchase, a vaccination — is an opportunity to review the patient’s records, engage the client, and secure a wellness visit or additional preventive care.

Why 18 months? Calculating your active patient count based on the last 12 months is just too short. With life as busy as it is, people can easily slip past the 12-month mark for a visit and be considered lapsed. With 18 months, there’s no ambiguity. If it’s been 19 months since the patient’s last visit, they’re lapsed — no question.

Now that we’ve established the metric and its definition, we need a formula to calculate the net change in active patients. All the numbers you’ll need to make this calculation can easily be accessed in the Practice Overview Report. Check out “How to measure your veterinary practice’s success with a simple calculation” for an in-depth look at these numbers.

Martin Traub-Werner

Martin Traub-Werner

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