2013 CAE Recipient Profile - Histovet Surgical Pathology

Histovet is a private veterinary diagnostic laboratory interpreting about 20,000 tissue biopsies per year from dogs, cats, and other companion animals from over 1000 veterinary clinics in Canada and internationally.  Histovet began 32 years ago as a part time business to supplement the teaching and research activities of Dr. Brian Wilcock.  At that time, all veterinary diagnostic laboratories were government laboratories focused primarily on monitoring diseases in food animals, with an emphasis solely on diagnostic accuracy.  Right from the beginning, Histovet had a different vision that included not only excellence in diagnostic precision, but also excellence in customer service that included speed of reporting, clarity and literacy of the reports, and responsiveness to changing customer needs. 

Since those early days, the business has grown larger, the diagnostic work has grown substantially more complicated, and our veterinary clients have certainly become more sophisticated and more demanding.  Nonetheless, those core values have never changed and all aspects of the business are in support of those original priorities.  Customer surveys and interviews over these many years have been remarkably consistent in what our clients value the most, and so our challenge over the past 30 years has also remained unchanged: how do we continue to deliver rapid, accurate, literate, and compassionate diagnoses in the face of increasing case numbers and complexity?  For us, the answer did not lie in expansion of our workforce.  We deliberately rejected the model that “bigger is better”, and instead decided that the model for us was based entirely on maintaining uncompromising excellence in our diagnostic quality and in customer service.  Those two goals match perfectly with the expertise of the two managing partners: Dr. Brian Wilcock is a veterinary educator and diagnostic pathologist, and Dr. Anne Wilcock teaches and publishes in the area of quality management.

We have never advertised and we control our growth by being selective in who we accept as new clients.  We decided that the answers to the challenges of even moderate growth were in technological advances in logistics and communication, greatly improved data processing, and adoption of the best management strategies we could find.  Parcel post, typewriter and telephone gave way to overnight courier, computers and e-mail.  Our database can search and collate virtually every word in every report we have ever written to identify new patterns of disease and share that knowledge through scientific publications.  The greatest challenge, however, was to develop and maintain a management system that allows this busy business to run as close to error-free as is humanly possible, and allow us to measure our performance in those key areas of customer service that have allowed us to prosper in a business environment that is now very competitive and dominated by much larger international corporations.

In 1998, Histovet became the first veterinary laboratory in the world of be certified to the ISO 9002:1994 quality management system standard.  This provided us with the template that we needed to document our processes, control their evolution, and measure the success of our processes in achieving our quality goals.  Our management system is specifically designed to ensure that we know the status of every sample from the time it leaves the clinic of origin until that clinic receives the final written report from us.  We measure report turnaround time, fluctuation in cases per month, client satisfaction, subcontractor performance, and a host of other variables that allow us to judge, based on real numbers, exactly how we are doing in terms of meeting our corporate mission statement and objectives.  In this respect, we are perhaps no different from other successful companies, but we are probably unique in that Histovet remains a home-based business with just three employees!  Our choice to remain "small but mighty" offers huge advantages in terms of business agility and customer service when contrasted to larger companies.  In fact, it seems to us that most modern management systems expend a great deal of time, effort and money trying to overcome the disadvantages of size in order to recapture the responsiveness that is intrinsic to much smaller businesses.

Our commitment to customer service and diagnostic excellence is not just lip service.  We are accessible to our clients 12 hours a day, 364 days a year.  When you call Histovet, the telephone is answered by a real person empowered to make decisions and knowledgeable enough to answer your questions.  You do not get a message telling you how important your telephone call is... while you are placed on indefinite "hold"!  All clients have virtually instant access by telephone or e-mail to one of the two managing partners, Our employees are aspiring veterinary students who spend a year with us en route to entry into veterinary school and then into careers as veterinarians, so we never have problems with employee training or motivation.  We have just a single product and a single process, but every employee works with the knowledge that every step in the process is equally important in achieving our goal of the most accurate diagnosis communicated in the most clinically useful fashion and in the shortest time possible. 

In 2007, Histovet was awarded a gold Canada Awards for Excellence Customer Service - Small Business, a feat that we repeated in 2010.  More important than the recognition was the process of reflecting upon all of the things that had changed over the years and, perhaps more importantly, the things that had not changed.  We have come to realize that, at least for us, our "quality journey" is not really a quest to provide better service.  If we are really honest, it is all about trying to ensure that we continue to provide excellent, personal and caring service in the face of increasing demands in terms of case numbers, the complexity of disease, and client expectations.  It is about remembering the first names of all of our clients.  It is about smiling when interrupted by the 10th phone call of the morning, with the famous words "are you busy?"!  And, especially, it is about remembering that every sample comes from a dog or cat that is, to someone, the most important pet in the world!