Previously, I have raised the specter of alternative providers of veterinary services and products. The Veterinary Care Usage
Study released in early 2011 pointed out that "fragmentation of the industry" is one of the significant factors contributing
to declining pet visits to veterinarians. We used to talk about the fact that there were too many veterinary facilities—too
many X-ray machines, too many surgical suites, too many clinics that were not being used to their potential. Certainly that
must be considered. But, increasingly, the fragmentation has been in service and provider options.
Veterinary care used to be a one-stop market. How things have changed. Forty years ago, emergency facilities were established
largely with the intent of allowing veterinarians to eliminate after-hours calls. Emergency facilities probably lengthened
the career, if not the life, of this veterinarian. Emergency care was provided, and the patient and client were referred back
for follow-up care, including ongoing nursing and surgery.
Bait the hook: Pet owners now have many options for filling their pets' prescriptions. Examine your pricing to make sure
your clients don't get lured away.
Today, many emergency clinics provide sophisticated care far beyond triage and "a kiss and a promise" treatment. These facilities
are staffed by veterinarians skilled in emergency care and frequently have incorporated specialists in critical care, internal
medicine and surgery in the same facility. The primary care veterinarian may have little role in the emergency care and follow-up
of a patient until the crisis is resolved. What has happened to your major surgery load in recent years? How many complicated
medical cases do you hospitalize and manage in your clinic?
Preventive care such as vaccination was once available only at a veterinary practice. Mobile vaccination clinics are nothing
new to much of the country, but they are increasing in number, visibility and, yes, convenience through a growing presence
in strip malls and at chain stores looking to provide another reason for people to visit them. Many pet owners associate vaccination
as the primary reason they visit a veterinarian. Once that need is met, they don't see a lot of reason to go to the veterinarian.
We already know that office visits are declining in number. What is happening to your vaccine numbers?
Spaying and neutering
Animal shelters provide early spay and neuter services and, in fact, insist that adopted pets be sterilized before adoption.
What has happened to the number of spay and neuter procedures performed in your facility in the last five years?
Flea and tick control
Flea and tick control product sales have declined significantly in most veterinary hospitals. Online pharmacies have impacted
veterinary drug sales in hospitals. In addition, today, over-the-counter flea and tick products are available at a number
of local sources from pet stores to supermarkets and hardware and home improvement stores. Supermarket pharmacies and chain
pharmacies are filling veterinary prescriptions at minimal fees as a convenience to their shoppers. Some major chains are
experimenting successfully with inventorying full veterinary product lines and encouraging their customers to fill their pet
prescriptions there while they shop. How are we ever going to compete against these market giants?