DVMs cite growing concern over Internet product sales

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Sep 01, 2003

Cleveland-The majority of veterinarians say the most competitive business pressure is coming from Internet sales of veterinary products.


Table 1: Which one source poses the most significant challenge to the success of your practice?
In a 2000 State of the Profession survey, the top-ranked source of competitive business pressure was from traditional veterinary clinics (56 percent). This year, veterinarians say they feel the competitive pressure from Internet sales Web sites (65 percent). The 2003 survey shows that traditional veterinary clinics, as a source of competitive business pressure, dropped to 46 percent.

DVM Newsmagazine's State of the Profession survey was mailed to 1,000 veterinarians selected randomly and based on responses from 352 practitioners, achieving a 23 percent response rate.


Table 2: How competitive do you consider the market for veterinary services in the geographic region in which you practice?
Veterinarians were also asked to rank the "one" source that poses the most significant challenge to the success of practice. The top three responses included Internet sales Web sites (30 percent), traditional veterinary clinics (28 percent) and larger full-service hospitals (13 percent). (Table 1.)

However, when veterinarians were asked about the biggest challenge to the future success of practice, competition dropped to the fifth highest-ranking category. Practice income/fees topped the list by 28 percent of respondents. Other popular answers included:

  • Finding and maintaining staff, 20 percent.
  • Providing high quality services/facilities, 19 percent.
  • Attracting clients/client issues, 14 percent.
  • Health, time management or burnout, 12 percent.
  • Competition from clinics and over-the-counter sales, 11 percent.


Table 3: How many practices are within 5 miles of your clinic?
However, veterinarians believe they are located in competitive locations. According to the survey, 40 percent of practitioners describe their area as highly competitive, and another 53.6 percent say it is somewhat competitive (Table 2).

Additionally, 36 percent of respondents say they have five or more clinics within five miles of the practice. The mean number of practices within this five-square-mile radius is 3.3. (See Table 3.)


Table 4 and 5: How many Competitive practices have opened within the past 3 years? and Are your facilities and medical equipment better, worse or about the same as other practices in your area?
Flat expansion?The majority of veterinarians say there isn't a lot of expansion occurring in their locales. Sixty-three percent of veterinarians say that no new practices have sprung up in their area over the last three years (Table 4, p. 20).

When asked how they compared their facilities to other practices in the area, about 38 percent believe their practices were about the same as their competition. Fifty-four percent of respondents believed their facilities and medical equipment were better than competing practices in their locales (Table 5).


Table 6: Of the patients you refer to specialists, what percent do you lose as regular patients?
When the data were cross-tabulated by the size of the practice, noticeable differences emerge. About 40 percent of solo practitioners say their facilities are better than other practices in the area, while 77 percent of practitioners in four-plus doctor practices say the same.

The majority of veterinarians (66 percent) also say they are not marketing their practices more aggressively than in the past, while one-third of practitioners say they are doing more. The top marketing strategies for practitioners included Yellow Page advertising, newsletters and direct mail and newspaper ads.


Methodology
Attitudes about corporate ownership of veterinary practices is also softening. Only 23 percent of respondents say they are strongly opposed to corporate ownership for the profession. In 1994, 36 percent of practitioners said they were strongly opposed. In 2003, 32 percent of practitioners were neutral on the subject, while 21 percent in 2000 said the same.

SpecialistsThe majority of veterinarians do not believe they lose many cases as a result of referring patients to specialists for advanced care. In fact, 75 percent of practitioners say they don't lose clients through a specialist referral. And of those veterinarians reporting losses, the numbers of cases are extremely minimal.

On average, veterinarians are referring about three cases a month to specialists. About 60 percent of respondents say that number is about the same in comparison to three years ago.

Larger practices also report referring more cases to specialists. In practices with four or more doctors, 42 percent say they are referring five or more cases a month. In comparison to solo practitioners, 14 percent say they are referring more than five cases a month.

About 50 percent of all referred cases are for orthopedic problems. Other top referral specialties cited by veterinarians include:

  • Ophthalmology, 33 percent
  • Surgery, 23 percent
  • Internal medicine, 19 percent
  • Oncology 19 percent
  • Dermatology, 11 percent
  • Cardiology, 5.4 percent
  • Anything beyond my expertise/difficult to diagnose, 11 percent.