Systems Approach to Veterinary Transformation

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For the past four hundred years the analytical mode of thinking has served society well but during the past fifty years, this mode of thinking has become obsolete and ineffective in describing function or purpose of a business system in today’s more complex and less predictive world.

The analytic approach:

  • Dismantles systems into their resultant parts which are in turn examined independently to determine the function of the system.
  • The analytic mode assumes “one part one function”.

Systems’ thinking approach:

  • Addresses the issue from a more holistic approach that addresses the fact that all the parts work together interdependently to create the end result or purpose and that this end result could not have been deduced from an analytic approach.
  • The Safari Business System has the same parts as any other veterinary business system (veterinarians, technicians, nurses, receptionists, assistants, clients, pets, equipment), yet the end result is different, better, more rewarding, in a Safari practice.
  • How this end result is accomplished in a Safari practice cannot be deduced by the analytic method of reasoning, as it contains the same parts, and an independent analysis of these parts does not illuminate the differences in end results or outputs of the system.

Complex systems, on the other hand, demonstrate that any one part can have many functions and therefore many outputs. These outputs are determined by the relationships, the interactions, the interconnections, the interdependencies of the parts.

Therefore, the true output of the system may not be apparent from the more traditional analytic approach. Analysis of the veterinary system might for example define the output of the system as a “system that makes and ill pet return to a healthy status”.

The true output of the veterinary care system may be summarized as "Knowledge Sharing" and is performed by people who are working as a team in an information-bonded socio-cultural system.

Emergent Properties

The results related to happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, are called emergent properties of a system which cannot be touched, measured or explained by the analytical approach.

So instead of describing the parts of the Safari System and the function of those parts, this document will describe a new way of knowing, a new way of understanding, a method for creating results.

There are only three elements that define any system but there are many conceptual prerequisites necessary to understand the design, development and maintenance of these elements. I hope to define and develop the necessary elements of this conceptual framework so that the reader can not only see the end result of the Safari System but also participate in its ongoing development as we strive to transform the veterinary industry.


Culture, in a sense, is a repository of successful behavior that has been rewarded, shaped into habits and stored for future reference. These successful behaviors of the past define what success should be in the present or future and act as the cultural DNA that replicate the culture through dictating the normal behavior and worldview of all participating members. The veterinary culture therefore embodies a distinct value system that defines what a successful veterinarian is or does as well as the current worldview of a successful veterinary practice. The challenges that veterinary medicine faces result from a mismatching of this worldview and the model of veterinary practice that it represents with the current societal trends and competitive business environment. The issues facing veterinary practice are therefore symptoms of a culture, which is measuring success on a scale that is no longer valid. To successfully change this socio-cultural system, changes must first be made in the default cultural codes that define success. The Safari System Cultural System differs greatly from that of traditional veterinary practice. Therefore an effort will be made reveal the essential components of the traditional veterinary cultural definition of success and to show how these assumptions that are no longer valid yet they can replaced with new definitions of success that better match the current veterinary market needs. This is the Safari System.

Veterinary medicine, like any other complex system, demonstrates interdependency among its parts and self-organization within its cultural codes.

Veterinary Success

The most predominant view of veterinary success (purpose) is focused on successful medical and surgical applications of veterinary knowledge. This purpose of the veterinarian represents a default value that is rarely questioned, or challenged because it has its origins in the historical model of veterinary practice where the successful veterinarian “did things” to “fix” illnesses and injuries within the agrarian cultural backdrop. This agrarian contextual environment helped shape the view where “work” was defined by things you did. “Real work” made you physically tired, accomplished real results or produced real goods. Successful veterinarians in the historical model performed "real" tasks that applied their medical and surgical knowledge to the animals, fulfilling the vision of what veterinary practice should be. This vision however created a veterinary business model that limits the number of patients that a veterinarian can successful serve through the dynamics of how the knowledge is disseminated, one-on-one from veterinarian to client or animal. This single-file workflow and orientation served the large animal practitioner well, but is not efficient enough for the small animal practice to economically succeed. Nevertheless, it is the basis for what is taught in most veterinary schools today.

New Definition of Veterinary Success

Veterinary practice which is defined as the application of the esoteric knowledge of veterinary medicine and surgery to the care of animals is practiced within a veterinary business. Veterinary business must support the veterinary practice by providing the infrastructure and resources necessary to optimize the success of the veterinary practice. The world has changed and become much more complex than the agrarian world of the past and this new world places the opportunities for veterinary practice and veterinary business on different paths than before. The veterinary client or pet owner has become more important to the success of the veterinary business because of the enhanced relationship the owner now has with the pet. Veterinary practice therefore must focus not only on the needs of the pet but also the needs of the owner. The global advancements in science and technology has had tremendous effects on the veterinary practice creating a more complex diagnostic and therapeutic environment than in the past outpacing the ability of the traditional “one man show” veterinarian to perform at optimal levels.. This level of complexity demands the coordinated actions of a health care team who works with the veterinarian to deal with the new needs of the pet the client and the more complex veterinary world of today.

The transformative focus for veterinary practice of the future involves understanding that a primary driver of veterinary success is knowledge dissemination. Focusing on knowledge dissemination as an added purpose of the successful veterinary practice is transformative because the result is a relationship with a client, not just a focus on animal that must be restored to health. Once the veterinary knowledge asset has been used to create a client relationship, maintenance of this relationship becomes essential to the long-term health of the veterinary business. This causes an evolution of the definition of a successful veterinary practice from a “veterinary centered practice” to a “client centered practice.” When the client becomes the center of the practice, customer service rises in importance and the need for health care team members to serve in this function rises. Client relationships can be maintained and increased as the veterinary knowledge asset passes through the health care team to the client. Client education becomes more of a function of the team than just the veterinarian. The educated client uses more of the veterinary services than the non-educated client thereby increasing the size of the "veterinary pie". The guiding principle should be “he who has the smartest client – wins”.

Setting the vision of the successful veterinarian from one who does “real things” focused on medicine and surgery to one who shares his knowledge with the health care team and clients to build long-term relationships will be transformational. This transformation will result in increased efficiency orders of magnitude above the norm enabling the veterinary industry to overcome the issues addressed earlier and thrive in the future. Undertaking a transformational strategy for a whole industry is challenging but doable if the effort is substantially focused and has the support of those who wield the power within the industry.


The greatest obstacle in this process however, may prove to be not so much a lack of understanding of these concepts among the common veterinarian as a lack of common understanding among the so-called experts.