Laurie's Blogs.


Oct 2012

Why do so many canine rehab businesses fail?

This is an interesting question asked of me recently – and I think it comes down to several factors in my opinion.

Firstly, it is likely relevant to realize that the majority (80%) of businesses fail within their first year of existence!  Why?  Business experts profess that it is a failure to plan and lack of business acumen.  Marketing experts can point to failures in marketing campaigns and the lack of structure and systems.  Financial gurus claim that an insufficient financial buffer and long term financial planning may be at fault.  Any of these factors could be at the root of this phenomenon.

  Here are some things that I see about the business of rehab that, in addition to the components above, could be contributing to this dilemma:

1)   Building it too big, too quickly, and simply believing “if you build it, they will come”.  Then sinking under when the rehab-side of the practice is not paying off the start-up loan as quickly as the underwater treadmill sales person promised them would happen!  This is a new field.  The pubic doesn’t exactly know what ‘animal rehab’ is! What can it do?  Who will it benefit?  Is it right for my animal?  Beyond the public, non-rehab veterinarians may have exactly the same questions.  The practice of animal rehab has yet to be researched in such as way as to be able to state that ‘rehab for dogs speeds healing, reduces pain, improves customer satisfaction, etc…’ (That being said, all of the proprietary research on how specific modalities or manual techniques work, were all done on animals!)  Never the less, for animal rehab to grow, we all need to put an effort into educating the public, our co-workers, and the veterinary profession as a whole, on the benefits of animal rehab.

2) The quality of animal rehab is not ‘up to par’ – and the pubic and your referral network may begin to lose faith in the practice of rehab, and stop coming for therapy or referring patients.  The number one rehab skill that is lacking in many rehab facilities is the ability to perform a full physical (manual) evaluation in order to come up with a pathofunctional diagnosis.  A traditional medical diagnosis (aka a pathoanatomical diagnosis) is not sufficient to provide physical therapy and rehab services.  A simple diagnosis of post-operative TPLO, for example, does little towards coming up with an INDIVIDUALIZED therapy program.  How is the animal functioning?  What is the integrity of the front limb joints?  Are there spinal or pelvis dysfunctions?  Are there myofascial trigger points in muscles anywhere in the body?  How should complications be addresses?  Can they be adequately identified in the first place?  Is the person leading the rehab program / leading the rehab department able to conduct a pathofunctional assessment and diagnosis?  There are a number of lameness issues that can be caused by structures not typically identified in a typical veterinary exam – rib or sacroiliac joint dysfunctions – muscle strains or tendinopathy lesions.  Is the education level and depth of the person running the animal rehab program adequate?  Does a vet or PT who is able to make the pathofunctional diagnosis support the technicians who are performing animal rehab sufficient?  Are the vets or PTs routinely assessing the animal through-out the rehab process and evaluating the FUNCTION of the animal?  Do you need to add a supervising practitioner to your practice, or do you need to enhance your own knowledge?

3)  The underwater treadmill is not a magic dishwasher and the laser is not a magic wand!  They are simply tools – not stand-alone treatments.

4)  Marketing!  And while this technically takes us back to the first point about why businesses fail in general, I think it holds ever more true to this unique area of practice.  Your marketing should be relationship-building, multiple points of contact, multi-media, and direct response.  Am I talking over your head?  Then you may need to get training in this field! (I’m working on a program specific to animal rehab currently!!!)

5)  Failure to utilize, practice, and niche.  If you don’t go home and institute a plan to utilize and practice the skills and concepts you learnt, then they will disappear.  What is your plan to keep your skills and build your skills?  A full rehab facility is likely daunting to many individuals – so in those instances, don’t try to serve all rehab.  Niche!  Perhaps focus on how you can help just the geriatric, osteoarthritic dogs.  Perhaps focus on providing just advanced manual diagnostic capabilities and prescribing therapeutic exercises to benefit diagnostically-challenging patients.  Perhaps focus on the sporting dog clientele.  You may need to set aside ‘rehab days’ where your focus on rehab (assessments and treatments) occur on those days only.

  I hope that wasn’t too heavy for people!  I hope it served as food for thought!  I hope it served as inspiration as well!  Don’t give up… just look at how you can do things better!  Until next time – Happy Rehabbing!  Drop me a line and let me know YOUR thoughts!