Rising costs pose new barriers to care

Rising costs pose new barriers to care

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Apr 01, 2011

NATIONAL REPORT — The last time you stopped by your local grocery store, you may have noticed that the cost of food is skyrocketing. Depending on where you live, gas prices are expected to top $4 to $5. Even $7 per gallon estimates are being tossed around for the summer of 2011. And the cost of medical care is an economic minefield all its own.

What will these escalating costs mean to veterinarians?

Cost of living on the rise

Perhaps James F. Wilson, DVM, JD, consultant and founder of Yardley, Pa.-based Priority Veterinary Management Consultants says it best: "The battle will not be easy."

For one, price-conscious pet-owning consumers are already shopping prices on vaccinations, spays and neuters, says Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA, a practice-management consultant and executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.

"They're strictly looking at cost when it comes to these services. There's a commoditization of prices going on," he adds.

"How can veterinarians compete with low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination clinics? Yet, if we don't compete, do we run the risk of losing the client visit and relationship to these commodity providers?"

Lorraine Monheiser List, CPA, CVA, consultant with Summit Veterinary Advisors in Littleton, Colo., says that even as costs rise, "historically veterinarians are not stellar about reacting as quickly as they should, which creates time lag for fee adjustment."

Yet, as Weinstein notes, "Although you would love to reflect those costs back to clients as a cost of doing business, cost of veterinary care has become a bit of a barrier to clients."

In fact, the recent Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study released in February shows that veterinarians are in the middle of a kind of economic balancing act between rising costs and client acceptance of fees.

While veterinarians have much to consider before tacking on a few extra dollars to services in this recessionary climate, the client's perspective has shifted as well.

"If we evaluate prior economic meltdowns," Weinstein says, "less thought went into decision-making regarding pet care. You gave clients a treatment plan, shared the cost of the plan, and got the job done. Now there's much more scrutiny on behalf of the client in the form of, 'Do we really need to do all of this?' Pet owners unfortunately have to decide where discretionary income is going. Today's pet owners are even waiting longer to see if pets will get better on their own."

Weinstein says the underlying message of a quote he recalls, "No change, no change," has powerful impact on the future of the veterinary profession. "This profession is going to have to start to accommodate to the economic environment and needs of the client."