Is a mobile practice unit or house call service right for your business? With the increased consumer demand for convenient, low-stress pet health services, there has been significant growth in the number of mobile veterinary practices opening up across the US. But is a mobile practice unit or house call service right for your business? If you’re considering adding to your existing practice options – or making it your whole business – here are some points to consider.
The cost of starting a mobile veterinary practice can be as much as 75% less than a regular bricks-and-mortar practice. With lower overhead to worry about, you could also save on your daily expenses. This could be a flexible option in place of opening a second standard practice location, but regardless, you’ll need to do the math to determine whether the potential revenue is profitable.
If you are looking to launch a mobile unit, you’ll need to identify where and how you will be making your services available. Are you planning to use it as a mobile office to do individual house calls? Or will you be making arrangements to have a scheduled spot or spots to visit on a regular basis? Regardless, you’ll need to account for travel time, parking and outfitting the unit. With finite space, you’ll want to plan layout and storage carefully to optimize usability. Choose the essentials for your planned service offerings. You may be limited in which equipment you can include, such as the type of x-ray machine that will fit. You’ll have less room for medicines and other supplies than most brick-and-mortar offices. You’ll also have to consider who or what type of staff will fit your needs and constraints.
If setting up a veterinary house call service, you may choose to use a standard vehicle, for example a van or SUV. But with just the storage space in your vehicle available, you’ll have even more limitations when running your mobile veterinary practice. You’ll be restricted in what services you can provide because you probably won’t have the imaging or testing equipment, staff or a full array of medicines at your fingertips. Although you can potentially offer your veterinary services over a wider geographical area, you’ll need to take fuel costs into account when planning where you can feasibly serve and consider this when setting your veterinary fees.
According to a 2015 study that observed dogs in a waiting room; “Two-thirds of dogs spent more than 20% of the time displaying at least one indicator of stress, and 53.3% showed four or more behavioral signs of stress…” These reactions aren’t just challenging for pets and owners alike- they can often result in attacks on the veterinary practitioner. By offering a mobile service, you can sidestep this issue and offer a low-stress service in the comfort of their own homes. Without the typical sights and smells of the veterinary practice, the pet is more likely to treat you like any other visitor and be more likely to cooperate with examinations or treatment.
But you need to weigh that against the risk of being in someone else’s home. If you choose to run a mobile veterinary practice, it’s important to recognize this risk and take precautions such as working alongside another professional.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the potential health risks of these visits and could expose you to the virus. The American Veterinary Association recommends that; “Entering a home or interfacing with a COVID-19 quarantined individual should occur only if consistent with guidance from the CDC, state, and local health officials.” Although pets are unlikely to transmit the virus to humans, care should be taken.
Many clients don’t bring their pets for regular checkups because they don’t have the time, they have other obligations such as childcare or work or they have health issues that limit their mobility. By offering a mobile service, you help ensure that they can access the veterinary medicine service they need without needing to step foot outside of their home. This can be especially useful if their pet is difficult to transport or they have more than one pet.
With a mobile veterinary practice, you can make your ‘catchment area’ wherever you like without being limited to the local geography. If you want to target a more affluent suburb or area, you can. If you want to focus on providing rural care, you can do that too. You can offer your veterinary services as far as you’re willing to drive.
When you’re travelling between clients, you may come up against heavy traffic or bad weather that can impact your travel time and make it more difficult to stick to your appointment schedule. Without a dedicated veterinary receptionist, you or your veterinary technician will also need to schedule client appointments on top of your normal duties. This can pose an additional workload that may be hard to manage.
Starting a mobile veterinary practice, whether a mobile unit or house call service, can be a cost-effective, flexible and low-stress way to launch your own business. However, there are certain disadvantages which you should take into consideration before you make an investment. On the other hand, adding house calls to your current practice may be a profitable venture or one that differentiates you from the competition. Weigh the pros and cons – and talk to your trusted advisors to make the best decision for your career as a vet and your financial future.