Surplus Vets And Questionable Marketing

heart murmur in dogs

I live in a small town. In fact, my entire county only has 28,000 people in it, including the ‘big’ town of Alliston, Ontario.  My small town has about a dozen streets and we finally got a gas station, a big event!  We have a tiny little grocery store, a post office, and one stop light – and three veterinary clinics.  I’ve always wondered how three vet clinics could possibly get enough business from so few residents:  but it just cemented my opinion that we have so many vets simply because our pets are over serviced.

It appears the problem is going to get worse, not better.  Vets need to make a living and they make a living off servicing our dogs and selling us products in their lobby.  Just the other day, Dr. Patricia Jordan sent me a flyer advertising a veterinary course.  The course title is A well trained team can directly influence the sale of veterinary products to pet owners. The Ultimate How-to Package to form a productive veterinary team!

I understand that vets need to make a living but is learning marketing methods to sell prescription diets, vaccines, drugs, toys and supplements really ethical for a medical professional?  How do we as pet owners discern between vets recommending products they feel are beneficial and products that have a high profit margin?  Isn’t selling pet food a conflict of interest for vets?  Certainly, training their staff to better push these products must be.  The waters between trusted health care provider and salesman should never be muddied.

I visited the DVM 360 website for vets and found a large, flashing ad for Purina Preventive Care Plans.  Here’s how it works:  the vet charges their clients a monthly fee to offer a ‘customized’ program of vaccines, blood tests, heartworm and parasite tests, deworming, nutritional analysis and counseling, etc. Their clients sign up with Purina for $50 which is split between Purina and the vet. Purina then skims 7% off the $20 to $40 monthly fee paid by the pet owner. This all ensures a regular monthly income for the vets and for Purina. Clients enjoy the convenience of monthly payments to the tune of $240 to $480 a year.

Here is Purina’s recommended Basic Dog Health Plan:

2  Comprehensive Physical Examinations
4  Office Call/Examinations
All Core Vaccinations as needed
1 Intestinal Parasite Exam
1 Hookworm & Roundworm Deworming
1 4DX Heartworm/Lyme/Ehrlichia/Anaplasma test
1 Complete Blood Count
1 Chemistry Profile
1 Electrolyte Screen
4 Nail trims
4 Anal Gland Expression
2 Nutritional Counseling & Weight Assessment
1 Interstate Health Certificate

Dogs would receive all of the above annually and with SIX office calls per year, there is plenty of opportunity for vets to sell even more services to pet owners.  What healthy dog, on a basic health plan, needs to visit the vet SIX times per year?  I’m baffled.

Programs like this will continue to be pushed on pet owners as vets compete with each other in an already saturated market. DVM Newsmagazine recently published an article stating that there is a surplus of graduating vets.  Today, there are 73,000 veterinarians by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ count. By 2020, BLS predicts a total of 83,400 veterinarians. The new numbers place veterinarians among the 30 professions expected to experience the greatest percentage growth from 2010 to 2020. Veterinary technician jobs are expected to blossom by 52 percent over the same period, making that field the fastest-growing of all the healthcare and technical occupations.

But median new-client visits dropped from 271 in 2001 to 218 in 2009, according to recent figures from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Patients per veterinarian per year dropped to 4,356—from 4,588—during the same period.

And a recent study by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, Brakke Consulting and Bayer Animal Health reports that 56 percent of veterinarians reported a drop in visits from 2009 to 2010.

It appears that vets will be facing stiff competition in the coming years.  What will your vet do to keep your business?  Will he work harder at marketing his products and services or will he realize the writing is on the wall and stop over-servicing his patients?  Time will tell.

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