Tensions build between private practitioners, low-cost service providers

Tensions build between private practitioners, low-cost service providers

But some private veterinary practices have found ways to co-exist with public programs and charitable organizations.
Oct 01, 2012

The Feb. 16 article in the Tucson Enterprise features a large photograph of a small dog covered in snow. The headline reads, "Veterinarians protest local spay/neuter clinic." The writer opens the story with an account from DVM Newsmagazine about some Mississippi veterinarians who protest a local spay-neuter clinic associated with an animal shelter.

The DVM Newsmagazine article, "A call to protest," ran in February 2012. It tells the story of 65 veterinarians and family members who "converged on an area shelter to protest the loss of 40 percent of their spay-and-neuter business to a low-cost sterilization program."

The Tucson, Ariz., article does not report a similar protest. But it does lay out one part of the complex tension between private-practice veterinarians and low-cost veterinary clinics. "Here in Tucson," the article states, "the problem is compounded when facilities like Animal Birth Control, which does assembly line style spays and neuters, starts doing other things such as dentals and declaws."

Though the reporter was apparently sympathetic to the economic problems faced by private practice veterinarians, the photograph of the shivering dog tells a different story. This mixed message is probably unavoidable as tensions rise between private practice veterinarians and low-cost alternatives in their communities.

Table 1 sources of competitive pressure
The issue here cleaves along several lines. Low-cost alternatives are provided by two types of organizations: public and private. Public low-cost clinics are often associated with municipal shelters or animal welfare leagues. Private low-cost clinics are typically nonprofit organizations not funded by government entities. Some private practices offer auxiliary low-cost services such as Saturday "spay days" or vaccine clinics. In some cases, those auxiliary services are structured as 501(c)3 not-for-profit tax-exempt units, like other charitable organizations.

Table 2 veterinarians’ greatest competitive challenge
Although veterinarians sometimes question the quality of care at low-cost alternative clinics, it's their economic protests that capture headlines. One thing seems clear. Tensions are rising. DVM Newsmagazine's 2012 State of the Profession shows that veterinarians' concern about competition from low-cost providers has increased significantly since 2009—in some cases it's almost doubled (see Tables 1 and 2).