Case Notes from Beyond the Clinic: vet and quality improvement director Laura on enhancing veterinary care and embracing neurodiversity

Leveraging her extensive veterinary background, Laura Playforth enhances patient care across the IVC Evidensia network. Specialising in quality improvement, she focuses on driving the quality of care we deliver, which positively impacts care for millions of animals annually. Passionate about neurodiversity, she also leads the neurodiversity group. Laura demystifies quality improvement and encourages veterinary professionals to engage in simple, impactful projects.

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Could you tell us about your role with IVC Evidensia?

I’m the group quality improvement director. I'm a vet by background and my special interest is quality improvement in a clinical sense. This involves benchmarking, clinical guidelines, patient safety, safety checklists—basically everything that helps improve the quality of care we deliver to patients. We also focus on improving the working lives of our teams and the experience of our clients and animal owners.

Could you tell us about your career journey and how you found quality improvement?

My journey has been interesting! I graduated in 1999, and quality improvement in veterinary healthcare as we know it now wasn't a ‘thing’ then. I started in small animal practice, working in various privately owned and corporate groups. In 2007, I moved into emergency and critical care with Vets Now, which was clinically exciting and innovative.

I spent 15 years with Vets Now, starting in the clinic and moving through regional, area, and national roles, ending up as the professional standards director. That job involved clinical and professional standards, regulatory matters, complaints, positive feedback, and quality improvement. My interest in quality improvement grew as we started our journey at Vets Now. In 2016, after returning from maternity leave, I started a master's in advancing healthcare practice, which focuses on quality improvement. I completed that in 2019 and joined IVC Evidensia when they bought Vets Now. I started doing quality improvement work in the wider group, and then this role came up, which was exactly what I wanted—focusing solely on quality improvement. The scale of the network is exciting - across 20 countries and with the opportunity to impact 10 million animals a year.

I also work on the Diversity and Inclusion Group within IVC Evidensia and am head of the Neurodiversity Subgroup. As a neurodivergent person, this is a big passion of mine. We promote neurodiversity awareness and support within the company. We've developed resources and training to help teams understand and support neurodivergent individuals. My neurodivergent traits, like thinking outside the box, have been beneficial in quality improvement, and I encourage others to explore this aspect as well.

What is the key message behind your episode of Beyond the Clinic?

Not to be scared of quality improvement. People often worry about its complexity, but it's actually very accessible. We've tailored our internal resources to guide complete novices through to developing their own projects. Even small audits can make a huge difference and can be done quickly, leading to a significant impact on patient care. I want people to feel enthusiastic and realise it's within their grasp.

Quality improvement is obviously a big part of your professional life. Why is it so important to you?

I've wanted to be a vet since I was eight years old, driven by a passion for animals. This passion extended to clients and colleagues in practice. Quality improvement is the optimal way to enhance care because it's impactful, easy to implement, and satisfying to see the changes accumulate over time. It gives us the opportunity to embed the evidence base into the way we practice, as well as learn so much from each other and the variety of ways we can do things. The transformational changes I've seen in patient care over my career are immensely satisfying.

If this inspires anyone to be more involved in quality improvement, what advice would you give them?

If they’re part of the IVC Evidensia network, check out our Quality Improvement Hub on the intranet, which is a one-stop shop for resources. We have training courses, a project database, blogs, discussion forums, and care frameworks. The hub provides practical tools and guides for projects, making it easier for anyone to get started.

For everyone else, the foundational training links to RCVS Knowledge resources, which are also free and accessible.

What do you see in the future for the realm of quality improvement?

The future looks bright within IVC Evidensia for sure, with a strong focus on quality improvement in the coming years. We're excited about our care frameworks, which provide point-of-care tools for common conditions. We also look to human healthcare for inspiration, such as scoring tools and care pathways, which we'll see more of in veterinary practice. Emerging technologies like AI radiograph readings and wearables will further enhance our quality improvement efforts. Overall, the integration of these tools will continue to make quality improvement a standard part of day-to-day practice.

Thinking about your own career journey, what are you proudest of so far?

It's hard to pinpoint one thing, but looking back at my time at Vets Now and the last few years with IVC Evidensia, I'm proud of the fundamental improvements we've made to support teams and enhance patient care. We've put benchmarking, training, and resources in place, which have already made a difference. I'm excited about future developments and continuing this impactful work.

What do you get up to outside of work?

I have a few hobbies. I cycle, run, garden at my allotment, read, and listen to audiobooks. Recently, I started ice skating with my children. I spend a lot of time with my two boys, engaging in various adventurous activities like climbing, Go Ape, and water slides!