Veterinary expenditures are up. We spent $23 billion on veterinary care for dogs and cats in 2006. That's an increase of 90
percent for dog-owning households, but only 29 percent for cat-owning households. The question becomes: Has the veterinary
profession priced itself out of the market? If this were solely about price, cats would be receiving more care and dogs less,
as cats apparently receive more economical care. Think of this another way: Fifty percent of pet owners spent $200 or less
per year on veterinary care. Though the number of owners who are spending at the high end — more than $500 — is 22 percent,
that means more than three-fourths of all U.S. households spent less than $500 on veterinary care in 2006.
Verdon: Specialty care is another extremely important area of development within this market. Howard Rubin is going to introduce some
of the important considerations when it comes to specialty care.
Rubin: As Dan asked me to sit on this panel, he wanted me to focus on two important issues. One being, of course, the idea surrounding
the advancing growth in specialty medicine. I'm CEO of BrightHeart Veterinary Centers. We focus strictly on specialty and
emergency veterinary practices. We own six of them across the country.
"When we talk about changing public perception of veterinarians, we need to make it clear that any changes that are happening
are from a position of strength." — Jim Flanigan, AVMA
I wanted to add a couple points about consumer attitudes and things we found about issues that Jim Flanigan just mentioned.
In my former life, I was CEO of the National Commission of Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI). We spent a lot of time at NCVEI
trying to understand this whole notion of value and how veterinarians can articulate those values most effectively. We learned
some very interesting things through focus groups, studies and reports about how veterinarians were dealing with issues surrounding
what people will or will not pay for veterinary services.
One of the things we learned was that veterinarians need to talk to pet owners about the steps involved with recommended services.
We found also that veterinarians often don't do the kind of work that needs to be done to educate the client about all these
steps. When clients balk about fees, they often don't understand everything that is going into it.
At NCVEI, we did some focus groups across the country. We wanted to understand how veterinarians responded when a client said,
"Gee, Doc, that seems like a lot of money." We took a simple example and tested this with 90 veterinarians across the country
and just over 100 pet owners in eight different focus groups. We took a two-view X-ray and priced it at the national average,
which is about $150. We went to the veterinarians and asked how they would respond when a client is concerned about cost.
Much to our chagrin, 50 percent of the veterinarians said that the first thing they do is reduce the price.
That's a pretty telling piece of information. We went to pet owners and asked the same question. What they said overwhelmingly
was that they had no real understanding of what goes into taking an X-ray of a companion animal.
What we also found was that those practices in the upper economic quartile were explaining the process to Mrs. Jones. "To
take this X-ray, we sometimes need to sedate Rover. We have to get him prepared to take that film; we need to process the
film; and then I need to go ahead and analyze the film to determine what we need to be doing to take care of Rover's condition."
Overwhelmingly, the pet owners in the focus group said, "We had no idea that it was so involved."
The headline message in all of this is the value to veterinary medicine in spending time explaining the various steps that
go into all the things veterinarians do to take care of patients. Overwhelmingly, we know that people want to do the right
thing, regardless of the economics.