Animal Hospital Group Shifts Membership Model to Require Accreditation

To focus on its strategic priority of accreditation, the American Animal Hospital Association will no longer include member hospitals that are not accredited. AAHA is working to smooth the transition by providing resources to help unaccredited facilities meet the new requirement.

The American Animal Hospital Association accredits veterinary hospitals. But its member hospitals currently include both accredited and nonaccredited practices. Now, AAHA is changing its membership model to require members to be accredited.

By including a separate category that allowed hospital membership for those that were not accredited, AAHA had inadvertently created confusion in the marketplace.

“Accreditation by AAHA has always been the foundation of the American Animal Hospital Association,” said Katherine Wessels, senior manager of member experience and communications. “In the last several years, the AAHA board and staff have been working to ensure we stay focused on our biggest strategic priority of accreditation.”

The association had found that “by including a separate category that allowed hospital membership for those that were not accredited, AAHA had inadvertently created confusion in the marketplace for what constitutes an AAHA member hospital,” Wessels said. Eliminating that membership category “increases the value of the accreditation these hospitals have worked so hard to achieve.”

AAHA announced the change in October. In early April, the association’s members included more than 3,700 AAHA-accredited practices and more than 1,500 nonaccredited practices. By June 30, all hospital members will be accredited.

The association has invited its nonaccredited members to become accredited, and it is providing resources to help.

“In some areas, we have sent in our field-based practice consultants to do complimentary walk-throughs of our nonaccredited member hospitals, so that they can see for themselves what it would take to become accredited,” Wessels explained. “We’re working hard to provide our nonaccredited members the educational resources to get more information about accreditation and the evaluation process so they can see the value and the benefits of it.”

If a practice chooses not to become accredited, individual professionals can become AAHA members. For any nonaccredited practices that do not become accredited by June 30, their membership will be converted to an individual membership for their owner or medical director.

“The transition is going well,” Wessels said. “We are finding many hospitals that have always thought about accreditation but never made the jump. This has been a good opportunity for them to learn more about the accreditation process and see that it may be closer than they think.”

AAHA sees the potential risk of losing members as worth the reward. “We know we will lose some, but it is a risk we are willing to take in the interest of bringing the focus back to our strategic priority of accreditation,” Wessels said.

Streamlining the membership categories is helpful for other reasons as well, Wessels said.

“This shift helps us to better serve our accredited members by allowing us to focus all our efforts on supporting them. Going forward, materials and programs we develop will all be geared with the accredited member in mind, which helps us create a better member experience for these exceptional hospitals,” she said.

Last fall, the association conducted a survey to track pet owners’ recognition of AAHA. The results, which it announced in March, bolstered the decision to change the membership model.

The survey showed that pet owners’ perceptions of the value of veterinary hospitals’ have decreased, but awareness of AAHA accreditation and its value have increased. For example, 30 percent of pet owners reported they looked for an accredited hospital the last time they chose a veterinary hospital (compared to 16 percent three years earlier).

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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