MORE OBSTACLES IN THE ROAD
In addition, wellness services such as surgical sterilization and vaccination are readily available at animal shelters and
mobile clinics. And with early spay and neuter and increased adoptions of older pets, surgical sterilization is frequently
performed even before a pet is obtained. The result is that fewer dogs and cats are being sterilized in private practices.
Parasite control products are widely available at retail markets and from Internet pharmacies—often at prices private veterinary
practices have decided not to compete with.
Furthermore, discount pharmacies and super stores are now providing veterinary prescription services at deep discounts compared
with clinic pharmacies. Many states require that veterinary clients be given the option of having prescriptions filled at
After the AVMA, AAHA, and AAVMC commissioned the KPMG study "The Current and Future Market for Veterinarians and Veterinary
Medical Services" in the United States just over 10 years ago, it was said that the demand for veterinary care was rather
inelastic (rising prices for goods and services would not result in decreased demand for these services) and that price sensitivity
was not a major force when pet owners selected a service provider. But recent surveys and studies have indicated that inelasticity
has faded.1 Blame declining visits if you will on the economy, but in many cases veterinary care has become a commodity, and even veterinary-client
relationships are increasingly susceptible to the clouds of cost.
TAKING BACK THE REINS
How will the veterinary profession respond? We can't keep selling buggy whips and compete on a commodity basis. We must reinvent,
repurpose, and refocus on the things veterinarians can't be beaten on—relationships and communication.
While we all agree that new medical and surgical technology, diagnostic advances, and the achievement of successfully treating
severely injured or ill animals are tremendously exciting, we must remember that the training and education we've put into
those things is hugely disproportionate to the energy we put into advocating for veterinary healthcare compliance and communicating
with each client every day.
It is time for veterinarians to put those buggy whips away and focus on appropriately pricing medical services, competitively
pricing products, and communicating the value—rather than the price—of veterinary care.
Michael A. Paul, DVM, is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of
the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from
practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies. Follow him at
Michael A. Paul, DVM
1. Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study: The decline of veterinary visits and how to reverse the trend. Bayer HealthCare, 2011.
Available at http://www.bayer-ah.com/nr/45.pdf.