The VDL: Industry-Focused, Client-Centered

Survivability in the animal kingdom involves an animal’s ability to respond and adapt to changing environments. That’s true in veterinary diagnostics as well. 

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State reliably and accurately processes more than 80,000 case submissions and conducts 1.25 million diagnostic tests a year, yet can also turn on a dime to successfully respond to an animal disease emergency that affects an entire industry. 

How it manages to successfully meet the challenges of an ever-evolving agriculture and public health environment isn’t left to chance. At every level of the VDL, there’s an entrepreneurial spirit that seeks out innovation, service and continuous improvement. 

One size doesn’t fit all

Many businesses have a homogenous clientele. Not the VDL. Its clients range from the animal agriculture industries themselves, each different; and the veterinary practices and livestock facilities within those industries – each with different needs.

The VDL is able to provide services tailored to what the client needs remarkably well. 

“It’s a big challenge,” says Dr. Katie Woodard, who manages client outreach and education at the VDL. “It’s important that we know our clients, have an appreciation for the different operations they have, and learn to interact with them in a way that is beneficial to them.” 

During the avian influenza outbreak in 2015, the VDL had to work through several new issues to get the samples in quickly and tested. “We knew that there would be positive influenza samples at the lab. Our avian clients didn’t want to touch the doors to the VDL.” Woodard said. “So, we set up a biosecurity station in our driveway where they could get a packet with boots, gloves and antiseptic wipes and put those on in their car. Then they could get out of their car and go inside to deliver their samples. We had a system set up so they could discard them without contaminating their car.”  

Stepping into their shoes

To learn what the client needs, Woodard begins by talking to them.

“I will telephone them, and often make site visits to better understand their business or operation,” she said. “Only after that am I able to set them up with a submissions system that makes the most sense for them.” 

Woodard is the translator between the client and the lab. “When I was hired, I spent time in each area of the lab to make sure I understood its role, and how it interacted with the rest of the lab. It’s important to understand the lab as a system – a system made of many parts.” 

The VDL also hosts open houses for clients. “We talk about whatever the client wants to talk about at these events. They see what our lab processes look like during the day. We have started monetary incentives on testing if samples meet certain requirements, so we have less front-end time, so tests get completed faster. We’re also happy to follow up at clinics to help train staff on how to submit samples.”

On the horizon

Woodard has worked closely with the lab’s team of IT professionals to develop and launch (effective March 12, 2018) a mobile-friendly version of its Client Web Portal. This provides VDL clientele an improved application for viewing case results and completing web-based submissions via their personal mobile devices. To ease another common logistical (and financial burden) for their clients, the VDL is close to rolling out a new program, ISU VDL EZ Ship, that will allow clients to easily get samples to the VDL. Clients will be able to generate and print UPS shipping labels directly from the VDL website and drop packages at any pickup site or arrange for UPS to pick up for delivery to the VDL.

With this client-focused mindset and continuous desire to improve and innovate, there’s no doubt that Iowa’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is built to last.