DVM Newsmakers' Summit: Consumer expectations, standards of care are changing, panelists say

DVM Newsmakers' Summit: Consumer expectations, standards of care are changing, panelists say

Jul 01, 2008
By dvm360.com staff

Editor's Note: Understanding consumer behavior can help you as a clinician and business manager. DVM Newsmagazine asked five veterinary market leaders to join this year's DVM Newsmakers' Summit at CVC East in Baltimore. Following is the second of three excerpts from the panel discussion; the final one will be published next month.

They include: Jim Flanigan, AVMA; Dr. John King, Minnesota state board; Howard Rubin, Brightheart Veterinary Centers; Dr. Richard Timmins, Association for Veterinary Family Practice; Dr. James F. Wilson, consultant and attorney; and DVM Newsmagazine Editor Daniel R. Verdon.

Verdon: In the past year, AVMA and other groups have put together some groundbreaking research on consumer attitudes. Jim, could you help us build a profile of veterinary medicine's most loyal clients and least loyal?

Flanigan: The people who are most loyal are the people who go to a veterinarian who communicates well. The bottom line is, if the client believes that the veterinarian has explained to them why certain procedures are necessary, the client is more likely to be more loyal. If the veterinarian has explained to the client what the potential outcomes are, if the veterinarian interacts well with the pet and if the experience at the clinic is one of value in which the client perceives that the people are compassionate and communicative, then the client will be loyal. Clients don't expect veterinarians to be high-tech — just high-touch. Those are the people who are going to be most loyal.

James F. Wilson, DVM, JD
It has nothing to do with their capacity to pay. It does have something to do with the human-animal bond.

People who are most bonded to their pets and who found a veterinarian who's willing to share that concern for their pet are the people who are most loyal. Loyalty's important, because loyalty leads to compliance. The more loyal a person is, that person will be more compliant with the recommendations of the veterinarian. Ultimately this increases the quality of care that a pet receives.

People with higher incomes have greater disposable income and therefore spend more on veterinary care. That's true. However, it's the bonded owners who actually spend more. When you compare people even at the lowest levels of income ($20,000 or less annually), those people spend more on veterinary care per year than unbonded owners or people less bonded with their pets (who earn $60,000 or more per year in income). The human-animal bond is a critical component of that.

Jim Flanigan, American Veterinary Medical Association
Where do we see the greatest bond? We see it in families with children. Very high percentages of families with children own pets, and most of them own dogs. Most of the spending in the United States for veterinary care for companion animals is for dogs. But we do a disservice to the veterinary profession if we said there's this target market you really need to be going after.

One of the interesting things that came out of the Brakke study years ago asked veterinarians to make medical recommendations to clients. The only difference was how the client was described to the veterinarian. Medically, there was essentially no difference between the cases presented. Based only on the client description — that the client was unable or unwilling to pay — veterinarians made different recomendations. I wouldn't want to suggest that, based on certain demographic factors, veterinarians simply tailor their recommendations to a low-cost or high-cost solution. In reality, a bonded owner may come from any income group, either gender, he or she may have children, may be single, may be divorced, may be older or younger. The fact that they're bonded to that pet means they're looking to the veterinarian as a source of information and a source of care for that pet.