Dr. Marty Becker: Make your practice C-worthy

Dr. Marty Becker: Make your practice C-worthy

Notice that silence? It's the calm before the storm—a storm that threatens to turn into a disaster if the Internet keeps stealing your clients. But those dark clouds don't necessarily mean doom. After all, no computer can provide the level of service your practice can offer.
Jul 01, 2011

As many of you know, I embarked on a Big Bus Tour recently to talk to pet owners and veterinarians across the country. Before I set sail on the bus, I realized that a concern was nagging at me. In fact, it tugged at me like a dog gnawing a bone. It was the reason I splashed the words "Healthy Pets Visit Vets" across the side of the bus.

It was fear.

I was afraid the profession I loved was in danger of becoming irrelevant. I thought about other professions that have been rendered obsolete by technology, from telegraph operators to local booksellers—even to general practitioners in human medicine. The march of technology has either stolen, or is in the process of stealing, their relevance. People no longer look to them first when they need to send a message, buy a book, or find out what drug they need. Instead they turn to the Internet to do these things.

So during the Big Bus Tour I focused on helping my veterinary colleagues make their practices seaworthy for the rough weather ahead—weather brought on by the storm of Internet technology. I made a list of what supplies we woud need to bring on board. Conveniently, they all begin with "c." Well, all but one:

> compassion

> clarity

> connection

> communication

> competence

> courage to compete

> luminosity (yes, that's an "l." But it's an important "l").

Before I tear into each of these characteristics, let's look at the nature of this latest threat to veterinary medicine. If you've been in practice a few decades, you know this isn't the first storm we've faced. But what we face now is a perfect storm. Internet technology that seems to eat everything in its path has converged with a major recession that's changing what we think of as normal in our economic lives.

Dark clouds brewing

In my opinion, the economic change we're seeing will not be short-lived. This, friends, is the new normal. We can't hide from it any more than the people who sold gas-guzzling SUVs, built homes, ran newspapers, or operated neighborhood drugstores could. We've gone from the Me Decade, which actually lasted about three decades, to the Value Decade, which we can expect to last at least that long. The people who come to us are going to demand value, and we have to deliver value or they won't come. Especially if they can find what they think is value by visiting websites.

This threat is as real as the advertising campaigns that advise clients to "save a trip to the vet." It's as real as the website where subscribers can get veterinary advice for $107 a year and also buy nutritional supplements and ear cleaners. It's as real as the website that promises subscribers live chats 24/7 and asks, "Did you know that in 2010, average dog veterinary visits cost owners $225? Our services start at $12.95."

I don't have to tell you how dangerous this is for pets. You already know how tough it is to diagnose disease in animals that are lying on your exam table with radiographs up on the viewer and a blood sample in the analyzer. I don't have to tell you how dangerous it is for your practice if you're no longer the first place clients go for advice on wellness, diagnosis, and treatment. If we are no longer the touchstone of the relationship between pets and people, what will our role be in the lives of animals?

It's a sobering thought. Even before the recession hit, AVMA data indicated a decline in veterinary visits for dogs and cats. In total, 1 million fewer visits were recorded in 2006 than in 2001. What's more, the new Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study reports that 15 percent of pet owners rely on the Internet more than the veterinarian. Nearly 40 percent look online first if a pet is sick or injured. That's pretty scary.