Competition – how does it affect your business?

Catherine

Is competition good or bad? Does it drive you to do better, or does it simply drive you insane?

A recurring topic of discussion on social media for professional canine scanners is the explosion in the number of people offering a scanning service. For 8 years, Vet Image Solutions were the only company offering training for lay scanners, and referrals all came through word of mouth. It was recognised quite early on that active marketing in the towns and cities of preexisting customers would be counterproductive and, ultimately, unsustainable. Restricting training locations to just two places in the UK kept an even playing field for all: if you made the investment to travel down from Scotland for training, for anybody else to do the same, they’d have to make that same large investment.

There has definitely been a growth in scanning over the last few years, but this has been organic. Whilst the absolute number of scanners has increased slightly, there has also been a significant ‘natural replacement’ factor at play: the core professional scanners remain, increasing in skill and experience every year, and the new scanners come and go around them at more or less predictable, stable levels. Subsequently, the number of people joining the ‘elite ranks’ of experienced scanners only increases by a handful every year – the vast majority simply do not have the staying power, or the market.

2018, however, has seen the entry of another training provider into the market, and a subsequent explosion in the number of people offering a canine pregnancy scanning service. New forces are always disruptive, and always present both challenges and opportunities. The big question is how to conceptualise this.

 

Better the devil that knows?

It’s time we accepted that whether we are running a local scanning business or we are providing canine ultrasound training, we cannot keep others out of our market. To try is to fight a losing battle. And whilst reveling in their lack of knowledge and experience may be tempting, the presence of ill-equipped and poorly trained individuals will ultimately be to the detriment of us all.

Our industry grew quietly, tentatively, taking great pains to stay within our remit as lay scanners, working as a complimentary service to the veterinary industry and not a competing one. We owe the very existence of our industry (which, it must be remembered, is the exception rather than the rule internationally – most countries do not allow pregnancy scanning to be performed by non-veterinarians) to the impeccable service we have all, as a group, provided dog owners. As smug as we might feel when we see people uploading pictures of bladders taken on their wireless probe ultrasound system, it’ll be of no consolation to anyone when the veterinary industry decides to take a stand against lay scanning or, worse still, when the general public simply lose faith in the ability of lay scanners as the horror stories begin to circulate – which they already are.

This may sound dramatic, but it’s happened before. Bovine scanning used to be unregulated. The first few cattle scanners were highly experienced, and many trained alongside vets, but as the industry grew, more and more people started scanning who decided they’d skip the training part and just dive straight into scanning cows – how hard can it be, right?

As a result, what used to be a highly respected field (indeed, many lay cattle scanners were actually teaching the veterinarians to scan) suddenly lost all credibility. Stories emerged of things being missed or misdiagnosed, and the vets took it to the courts. Now, if you want to scan a cow, you have to achieve a DEFRA-approved qualification that effectively exempts you from the law that states that you are not allowed to perform pregnancy scans on cows.

In other countries of the world, like many of the provinces of Canada or States of the USA, non-veterinarians cannot scan other people’s dogs. No exceptions and no exemptions. In the UK, you cannot perform a pregnancy scan on a horse, even if it’s your own.

As counterintuitative as it may feel, therefore, perhaps we need to help.

Yet at the same time, we must remain savvy and never stop investing in ourselves, in keeping ourselves as the true experts in our fields. The very real possibility of increased legislation is one of the reasons why the Animal Ultrasound Association is so important. If such a law change ever occurs, the AUA can provide evidence that its members have attended accredited training, own safe ultrasound machines, and have had their scans checked and signed off by accredited sonographers. This sets AUA members apart from the rest, and allows us to argue for exemption for professional canine scanners, should the time come.

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