In the UK, there are two main types of Veterinary practices: corporate vs independent. Whilst both types of practices strive to provide gold-standard Veterinary care, there are some differences to be aware of; especially from a business management point of view. This article will discuss how the Veterinary sector is divided and explain how these types of practices differ.

What’s the difference between independent and corporate Veterinary practices?

Every Veterinary practice has your pet’s best interest at heart, whether it’s an independent/ ‘stand-alone’ practice or a corporate group practice. There are often differences in their framework, values, and the way that they are managed. It may be easier to think of an alternative analogy; the differences between these two types of practices are in some ways similar to a smaller independent corner shop vs a supermarket chain such as Tesco! Both have pros and cons, but they are quite different in the way they operate..

Independent practices 

Some people think of this type of practice as a ‘traditional’ one, owned and run by an individual Vet or a group of Vets. These practices may only exist in one or multiple areas and are often imagined as having a ‘family-themed ethos’. However, the modern independent practice can exist in a wide range of forms, with many different ownership models – including sole ownership or partnership (the “traditional” approach), employee-ownership, or even owners who are not vets. Being run by the individuals who work within the practice provides clinical and business freedom and their decision-making is not led or governed by others. Protocols can be generated that suit that particular population of patients,a nd clinical standards established that work for that team rather than being “one-size-fits-all”. Continuity of care (seeing the same Vet during your visits) in independent practices can also be thought of as more consistent than in a corporate practice. However, one could argue that this varies between places with some corporate practices equally having excellent continuity of care.

Independent practices have disadvantages too. In particular, a small tight-knit team can sometimes mean that change comes slowly. Older practises can persist rather than being replaced by newer ideas. On the other hand, a new and improved technique is easier to adopt if it’s just the vets in a smaller independent practice who need to be convinced, rather than a whole hierarchy of management.

Corporate practices 

A corporate Veterinary practice is one which is owned by a bigger company. In this type of Veterinary practice, they are not owned and run by one individual Vet or a small number of individuals. Corporate companies are managed by a large team of business people, including a board of directors and shareholders. 

Their individual practices still have appointed ‘practice managers’ to run the business as a ‘franchise’, and a ‘clinical director’ who is responsible for the veterinary side of things. In smaller branches/franchises, these will often be the same person. These leaders are often Vets and/or Nurses (sometimes also non-clinical Colleagues). But their practice is still officially ‘owned’ by the company.

The advantage is that it can be beneficial having somebody else take control of the ‘business’ side of things whilst then being able to concentrate on clinical work and patient care. Furthermore, corporatisation allows Veterinary professionals to play a clinical role whilst also receiving full business, financial and leadership support from the company. 

Often, practice types from the outside appear quite similar. But some may be distinguished and recognised by their logo and marketing. Some popular corporate practices include Vets4Pets, IVC, Linnaeus, CVS etc. In many cases, a corporation buys up an existing practice but keeps their original branding and staff in place; at least in the short term.

Vets working for corporate practices sometimes have certain areas of work governed by their corporate owners and there may be pre-defined procedures, decision-making policies, and treatment guides to follow. This has advantages – best practice can easily be kept up to date, with oversight from a wider body of practitioners. But also disadvantages, if a particular patient hasn’t read the textbook (!), and the guideline becomes a protocol which then becomes a rigid rule. The competitive market of Veterinary medicine plays an enormous role amongst corporate companies by influencing standardisation, costs, and services.

Which is more common?

In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of independent practices being sold to corporate companies. Independent practices are steadily becoming few and far between! Based on the rising trend over the past few years, it is estimated that by the year 2027, corporate groups will likely own between 60-70% of UK Veterinary practices (Vet Times, 2018). 4 years ago, almost 12,000 Vets and Nurses worked for a corporate company. And looking at the way the industry has developed since then, this value is now likely to be a lot higher! 

But why are corporate practices on the rise and what has led this movement? 

Let’s take a look at the Veterinary practice history. In 1999, a change in the law allowed non-Vet ownership of Veterinary practices, providing a sudden opportunity for business-minded non-vets to take ‘ownership’ of a practice. Corporatisation today is providing more and more (relatively straight-forward) opportunities for Veterinary professionals to experience a leadership, practice management role and without this, leading a practice may never advance further than a thought. 

Which is better?

To conclude, I hope that this article has adequately covered the differences between independent and corporate Veterinary practices. In answer to the question, ‘is it better to go to an independent Vet practice’, the answer has to be no: while there are pros and cons to each model, both independent and corporate practices are equally valuable in their own ways. And they have mutual aims to support the health and welfare of your beloved pets.

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