% growth in invoice number, animal number and primary consults per animal
To assess the actual workload of practices we looked at some non-financial KPIs that correlate very closely to the workload in veterinary practices.
Animal number measures the percent growth of animals seen in each month compared to the same month the previous year.
Invoice number measures percent growth of invoices each month compared to the same month the previous year.
Consultations per animal is slightly different and looks at whether the growing population of patients is receiving primary consults at the same level (essentially it identifies if patients are getting the same level of attention).
For invoices and animal number, the data closely replicates the financial data mentioned before. It confirms that roughly in December 2021 the boom from COVID had levelled off and in fact in the case of invoice number it has started to drop below zero, indicating a very slight downturn in the volume of work performed to what were very busy months the previous year.
Attention given to patients in the form of primary consultations was negative in Dec 2020 – June 2021, indicating that patient care was deteriorating temporarily as veterinary practices struggled with the high growth, but then consultations reached normal levels again.
What can we try to ascertain from this information?
We feel the COVID growth boom is over. Don’t worry, the industry is not currently going backwards. If you look at the compounded growth over the last 2 years, patient numbers have increased by about 10%, so a 0% growth now means that you are stuck with these 10% extra patients. In fact it may be a good thing that the growth has slowed down, because the very high growth months caused a slight decrease in patient care as could be seen in the number of consultations delivered per patient in Dec 2020 – Jun 2021. We also measured dentals per patient and admissions per patient which indicated a similar trend but did not chart these for simplicity.
From a non-data perspective, we can currently see in our client meetings that at any time in a veterinary practice (or any other business for that matter), 15-20% of the staff are off sick or as close contacts. And regardless of the close contact rules, if children are sick, parents often stay home as carers. If we couple the 10% growth in patients with a 15% staff reduction, we come to a 25% deficit in staffing – no business can wear that comfortably, and the 25% deficit will remain as long as the patient growth stays at, or above zero, and as long as COVID continues to be transmissible at the current rate.
Hopefully staff recruitment will become a bit easier in the coming months as our borders open and vets are allowed to travel into Australia again – there has always been a reliance on imported vets from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand and this will help with some of the deficit. These vets will however be able to cherry pick their jobs and wages.
Therefore your current staffing levels are critical even if you are not growing anymore! Expect wages to go up and continued difficulties in recruiting staff. To offset the increased cost of staff your prices will need to go up even more, everyone is doing this which is why CPI currently is the highest it has been since the introduction of GST in Australia. Efficiencies within the practice, being an employer of choice, flexible rosters, flexible wage agreements and having enough staff to buffer sick leave are also important – we are more than happy to assist you with this.