E-mail rhetoric heats up from PetMed Express

Denying faxed Rx authorization could raise client ire; company says relationship with vets stronger than ever
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May 01, 2011

NATIONAL REPORT — Expect client backlash if you decide not to fax prescription authorization to 1-800-PetMeds.

In fact, the online pharmacy is instructing some clients via e-mail to demand prescription authorization unless the denial was due to a medical reason.

Stephanie Mieras, assistant office manager at Iron Mountain Animal Hospital, says she was surprised by the tone of the correspondence. Her surprise ended when a client from her clinic got a similar e-mail and showed it to the veterinarian.

"The e-mail makes it sound to the client as if what we are doing is illegal, but we are perfectly within our legal rights to have (a client) pick up a prescription," Mieras says. "We have no issues with PetMeds (filling) the medication, we just aren't going to fax it in. We don't fax for local pharmacies, either; we either write a prescription or call it in. Human doctors don't fax either."

Mieras says while 1-800-PetMeds is a reputable online pharmacy, many others are not, and her clinic made the decision two years ago to stop faxing prescriptions.

An e-mail alert received by Mieras through a client whose prescription was denied while trying to order from 1-800-PetMeds states, "occasionally we find that a veterinarian may need more information to authorize your prescription. However, some veterinarians ask that you call their office so that it is inconvenient for you to order from us. They do not want price competition in the market!"

The e-mail goes on to encourage clients to contact their veterinarian and demand prescription authorization unless there is a sound medical reason not to.

"You do not need to pick up your prescription from the office and you should not be inconvenienced. Thousands of veterinarians authorize over the phone and via fax every day," the e-mail continues. "And, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that veterinarians should honor a client's request for a prescription instead of selling the medication themselves. It's in their code of ethics."

The e-mail goes on to list possible things a client might say to their veterinarian and offers links to report the veterinary hospital to the attorney general and local regulators.

Bruce Rosenbloom, chief financial officer of 1-800-PetMeds, was surprised about the tone of the e-mail sent by his company when contacted. He says in his 10 years with the online pharmacy, he thinks the relationship between company and veterinarians is better than ever.

"Veterinarians for a long time had a monopoly on the business. What we've done is help the consumers save time and money along with making sure the pets are happy and healthy," Rosenbloom says. "I think our relationship with veterinarians has come full circle from 2001 to today. Our verification rate is the highest it's ever been, and I think veterinarians realize the service we provide. We all want the same thing."

On average, 70 to 75 percent of prescription orders are verified, Rosenbloom adds. Those that aren't verified typically are denied because the clients' pet hasn't visited its veterinarian within the last 12 months, prompting the veterinarian to ask the client to bring the pet in for an examination.

When that happens, 1-800-PetMeds, which employs up to 10 full-time pharmacists and 40 pharmacy technicians, tries to explain why the prescription may have been denied in a way the client can understand.

Mieras says that once the clinic stopped faxing prescriptions, it also decided to competitively price other products within the hospital, she says.

"Heartworm meds are the most likely to be price shopped, in our opinion," Mieras says.

Rosenbloom adds that 1-800-PetMeds also stands out to clients because of its customer service and support, which he says makes the company a leader in this growing niche market.

"We have all the high accreditations that any online pharmacy should have. They should have peace of mind that this dog is going to be taken care of," he says.

Other online pharmacies do not fare as well, says Dr. Lynne White-Shim, assistant director of the AVMA's Scientific Activities Division. AVMA, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ask veterinarians to report illegal activities by online pharmacies. In fact, FDA recently issued a consumer alert, asking clients to proceed cautiously when using an online pharmacy—especially one that is not accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, as 1-800-PetMeds is.

AVMA received five written complaints of illegal activity by online pharmacies from veterinarians so far this year, and had 17 last year. Typically, AVMA gets 20 to 30 complaints per year, she says.