Expanding Your Veterinary Practice: Opening an Urgent Care Center

By First Financial Bank
You’ve got an established veterinary practice within your community. Are you considering ways to expand your opportunities to serve new or current clientele? One idea may be opening an urgent care center.

Similar to the human healthcare system, an urgent care center addresses that “in-between” need for unplanned immediate care that may not rise to the severity to require an emergency room or hospitalization. As more pet owners look for services outside typical office hours for their pets, veterinary urgent care centers are an appealing option. They also tend to be less expensive for those issues that need to be addressed now but are not emergencies. Sound like a good expansion opportunity? Before you take the leap forward, there are some questions you’ll want to ask and answers to consider.

Where will it be located?

If you are thinking about opening an urgent care center, where you locate it will prompt additional questions:

  • If adjacent to your current practice, is it a risk to your current scheduled appointments and revenue?
  • If adjacent, does it allow you to leverage your existing infrastructure and staff – or overstrain your resources? Is there room at your current location for physical expansion?
  • If in a separate location, what does the competition look like for that area?

Regardless of location, urgent care services require a full scope of diagnostic, radiologic, laboratory and pharmacy services on-site in order to address the wide variety of needs of the pets coming through the door. What would those start-up costs look like? You’ll need to determine what you have that could be leveraged – and what would need to be acquired.

These logistics are some of the first to consider and discuss with your advisors.

When will it be open?

What hours will your urgent care center be open and how will you staff it during those hours? If you will be offering around the clock urgent care, then you’ll likely need to grow your staff to accommodate these additional hours. Besides hiring one or more additional veterinarians, your practice will also need to hire additional vet techs and office staff to attend to the urgent pet care side of your business. The human resources required to adequately staff a 24-hour urgent care clinic are no small factor to consider as you weigh the pros and cons of expansion in this direction.

Who will you target as clients?

Will your practice provide urgent care services to the general public or will this be a service provided exclusively to your current clients? Being open to all can help drive up revenue and provide a new way for prospective clients to get introduced to your overall business as a referral source for your traditional practice. It can also be more challenging because you won’t have the health history of the patient. As you think about which way to go for your urgent care center, keeping the reason for expansion in mind is important so that you can achieve those goals for your business.

What will you provide?

What services will you offer at your urgent care center and which will be referred on to an emergency animal hospital? Just as with human medicine, there are distinctions between what is considered urgent and what is considered emergent when it comes to veterinary care. Ear infections, small cuts, and vomiting are all examples of reasons why a pet owner might bring their pet into urgent care. If their pet was hit by a car, bleeding profusely, or is non-responsive, then those are situations that are typically beyond the scope of urgent care and would probably be better served by an emergency animal hospital. As you consider expanding into urgent care services, it’s important to decide and clearly communicate to your clients what issues your urgent care clinic can address – and which are better suited for a veterinary emergency room or hospital.

Finding answers to your questions.

Still wondering if this might be a good option for you? Talk with your trusted advisors. You’ll want to research the market and the community needs. Gain some answers to these – and other questions – as you decide whether there is an urgent care center in your business model for the future.

Making a plan for your veterinary urgent care center? Check out this article about building a business plan. Ready to chat about your plans? Let’s chat.

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