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The Surprising Cost of Skipping Practice Equipment Maintenance

Brenda Tassava, CVPM, CVJ, VetSupport, New Orleans, Louisiana

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The Surprising Cost of Skipping Practice Equipment Maintenance

Veterinary practices, more often than not, get the kind of surprises they would rather avoid. No team member appreciates being taken by surprise when he or she finds a particular medication is out of stock. The same is true for running diagnostics and performing procedures. Broken or faulty equipment causes frustration, costs the practice team and clients time, and can result in lost revenue.

A practice’s productivity can vary day to day, based on the number of team members, patient caseload, and scheduled appointment load; therefore, putting operational systems and processes in place, including equipment maintenance, is key maintaining high productivity levels and minimizing frustrations.

Operational Frustrations

One study of nurses working in a human hospital found they spent, on average, 42 minutes of each 8-hour shift resolving operational failures (eg, running out of medications, dealing with broken or missing equipment).1 

Calculating the equivalent loss of productivity for a licensed veterinary nurse with 6 to 8.9 years of experience shows that operational frustrations can account for a $12.25 loss per veterinary nurse per 8-hour shift.

Lost productivity per shift = time resolving failures per shift × hourly wage
Lost productivity per shift = 42 min × 1 hr/60 min × $17.50/hr
Lost productivity per shift = 0.7 hr × $17.50/hr
Lost productivity per shift = $12.25

Operational failures, which cause frustrations and lost productivity, can be reduced by decreasing the time veterinarians and veterinary nurses spend dealing with broken or faulty equipment.

Lost Time for Clients

What is the cost to a veterinary practice when broken or faulty equipment causes delays or return trips to a veterinary practice to complete a diagnostic or procedure? It may very well cost the practice the client. Prolonged waits and unexpected return trips to the practice may be just enough to make a client leave, especially given today’s culture of impatience and immediate gratification.

Client Lifetime Value

To truly understand the impact of losing a client, calculate a client’s lifetime value to a practice this way2:

Average number of pets owned
× Average number of times each pet visits
× Average value of each transaction
× Number of years a client is expected to own pets
× Number of friends a client is likely to refer to the practice

According to the AVMA US pet ownership statistics3:

  • Average number of pets per dog-owning household = 1.6
  • Mean number of annual veterinary visits per dog = 2.6
  • Mean veterinary expenditure per dog = $227

Data on the average number of years a client is expected to own pets is not available; however, it could be argued or assumed that adults who own a dog will remain pet owners for most of their lifetime. For the example calculation, 20 years is assigned for this value, and 3 is assigned as the number of friends a happy client might refer to the practice.

To calculate the lifetime value of a dog-owning client:

Lifetime value = 1.6 × 2.6 × $227 × 20 × 3 = $56 659.20

Keeping a client happy can, and likely does, dramatically impact a practice’s revenue over time. A client’s longevity hinges on a veterinary practice’s ability to deliver services and products in a timely manner.

Average Fees

  • Cytology (fine-needle aspirates)    $54
  • Ear swab and stain    $35
  • Wage per hour of a licensed veterinary nurse with 6 to 8.9 years of experience   $17.50

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2017: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WMPB; 2017: 22,27,98.

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Maintenance as Strategy

Regular equipment maintenance can prevent equipment (eg, microscopes, radiography equipment) from causing lost time and revenue. To calculate  the cost to a practice if a microscope is out of service for a single shift, look at the average number of fine-needle aspirate (FNA) cytologies and ear cytologies performed in a day. (See Benchmarks.)

Daily cost of a broken microscope
= lost veterinary nurse productivity per shift ($12.25, calculated above)
+ (average number of FNA cytologies per day × $544)
+ (average number of ear cytologies per day × $355)

If a practice determines the average number of FNA cytologies per day is 1 and the average number of ear cytologies is 6, then:

Daily cost of a broken microscope = $12.25 + $54 + (6 × $35) = $276.25

Maintenance Schedules

Maintenance schedules vary according to the equipment. Some maintenance will be based on the manufacturer’s recommendations, whereas other equipment will have maintenance included in a service contract. An assigned team member will carry out some maintenance (eg, cleaning) in-house.

Conclusion

Understanding the impact of broken or faulty equipment to a veterinary practice’s costs and revenue makes it easy to see that maintaining practice equipment is essential. Assigning maintenance schedules and specific equipment maintenance responsibilities to individual team members will prevent lost time and revenue.

1 Recognize how faulty or broken equipment and the resulting lost time impacts the practice costs and revenue and know how to calculate those costs.

2 Develop practice protocols for scheduling regular equipment maintenance.

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