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The changing veterinary drug model
Increasing pet owner options about where to obtain medications means veterinarians must adjust, experts say.


"It gets us out of the pharmacy business and it gives pet owners an alternative," Paul says. "The consumer always wins and the consumer will decide what they want and where they get their value."

Pet owners have a limited budget for medications, and Paul says their savings could translate to additional dollars available for veterinary care. The practices that will be hurt the most are those who viewed their medication sales as a profit center, he says.

"People who have handled these products like resale commodities are probably going to get burned pretty badly," he says. "The people who have realized that heartworm control and flea-and-tick control are medications, and have treated them as such, are probably going to be just fine."

Although AVMA and state veterinary associations are fighting the change, Paul says veterinarians are up against some heavy hitters, and the battle has just begun. He believes FidoPharm's heartworm preventive is a first step toward a bigger trend.

"My personal belief is they picked heartworm preventive because in many cases it is a very expensive product and people are looking for cheaper alternatives," Paul says. "They also realize that veterinarians are slow to change their pricing structure, so they have a big opportunity to impact buying habits."

But veterinarians will have a chance to improve their profession in other ways, offering clients things the big-box stores can't.

"I think we have to accept that some people are going to go to these stores. Some people are going to come to us. We have to make sure the ones that come to us continue to come to us. You do that building relationships and pricing fairly," Paul says. "If we manage to make these transactions of greater value to them, they will come to us. There are things they can't get at box stores that they can get from us."

Wilson agrees. The danger, in his opinion, to moving pharmaceuticals out of the veterinary hospital and into retail stores is the loss of communication between the practitioner and the client.

"All parties also have to accept that the drugs aren't the only thing curing pets. It's the ongoing, post-medication relationship clients and patients have with their veterinarians that counts," Wilson says. "All parties have to understand that pets are aging approximately seven times faster than people and thus need more than casual once-a-year or one-incident exams and oversight," Wilson says. "What the consumer-driven, low-cost entities fail to understand is the important role veterinarians play in this critical part of the equation. Like pediatricians, veterinarians treat patients that can't talk. This places ever more importance on follow-up evaluations."

Unfortunately, veterinary consultants have been a big part of the problem, Wilson says. In fact, for years consultants have recommended markups ranging from 2 to 2.5 times the cost of the drug. Veterinarians followed their lead, and in Wilson's opinion, this blind faith in consultants is now "killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

Veterinarians have to respond by lowering drug costs, perhaps offering to beat or match competitors' prices, Wilson says. The not-so-secret competitive advantage for veterinarians is convenience.

Use it, he says, because when prescriptions are filled outside of the veterinary hospital, veterinarians lose valuable information about client compliance that raise questions regarding the drug's effectiveness. Is a drug not working because of a failure of the chosen medication or is it because the prescription was never filled? Was it administered improperly or filled by the pharmacy with a "generic" human drug that has no known or proven efficacy for the animal species for which it was dispensed? If there is a suspected drug reaction, will these new players have veterinary pharmacists on call to deal with veterinary clients? Will they know anything about the species-specific bioavailability of the drug their pharmacy dispensed? After all, it is unlikely that the veterinarians who prescribed the drugs will have any knowledge about what product was actually sold by these new players. These are questions veterinarians will have a hard time answering when drugs are obtained and dispensed outside their practices.

"What we need to understand here is that the veterinary practice as the pharmacy is going to change, and we don't have complete control," Wilson says. "That means we have to get the new players in this field to accept and inform their customers that veterinary follow-up care is equally or more valuable than the inexpensive drug they just sold to one of our clients."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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