Face time in veterinary practice

Face time in veterinary practice

The undeniable power of individual relationships with your clients is the motivator to fight back against declining visits.
Sep 01, 2012

The old adage that everything old will be new again is an old adage because it's true. In Grandpa's day, veterinarians' livelihood relied on one very simple concept: relationships. As Dr. Michael Paul has told me, "Back in the day, veterinarians made it their business to know about a client's child graduating from high school or to send a sympathy card to another client who lost her mother."

From these relationships, trust and a practice are built.

So what's happened? By now, you know that nationwide veterinary visits have been declining for about a decade. In an effort to solve this problem, the AVMA, the American Animal Hospital Association, industry leaders, and other partners combined their efforts to form the Partners for Pet Health.

Veterinarians like data, and there are tons to support the claim, which AVMA CEO Dr. Ron DeHaven announced at the 2011 AVMA Convention in St. Louis, Mo., when he said "Houston, we have a problem." At this year's convention in San Diego, DeHaven touted new tools Partners for Pet Health offers to be certain that veterinarians and clients are on the same page. Still, overall, the problem persists. Half of all veterinarians had fewer patient visits in 2010 than 2009. Cat visits have plummeted, down 30 percent since 2006.

A minor problem? No—this is a crisis! How can veterinarians care for pets they're not seeing?

The impact of this crisis is undeniable. Back in 2009, I warned in national newspaper columns that not visiting the veterinarian would have severe consequences for pets—and therefore families. After all, for many of us, pets are family.

Today, preventable problems are up. There are lots of examples in the Banfield Hospital State of Pet Health 2011 Report. Here's just one. Internal parasites were up 13 percent in dogs and increased 30 percent in cats compared to 2006.

Not a big deal? Think about it. Not only are more pets unnecessarily getting sick, but some of these parasites are zoonotic. So, there's a public health component. Even flea infestations were up!

According to the first Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, there are six primary factors that explain the decline in veterinary visits. You've seen them before and you can read about them at http://dvm360.com/skipthevet, but who couldn't use a refresher?

These half-dozen factors aren't fiction—but many are also pretty complex. These six don't even cover it all, because there's already a big No. 7. In my opinion, the profusion of parasiticides now available over the counter contributes big time to the decline in veterinary visits. My pet-owning readers, listeners, and viewers tell me that they're purchasing these products in other places, so they don't see the need to visit the veterinarian.

I'm one of the journalists writing about pets who publicly states that making a random OTC choice may not be right for pets or their families. When pet owners skip the veterinarian, they miss out on crucial conversations about applying and using the product correctly. Worst of all, the pets may miss a regular wellness visit. I assume I'm preaching to the choir here, but I'm regularly reminding pet owners about the importance of the veterinarian listening to the pet's heart, running blood work, weighing the pet, asking about nutrition and behavior as well as parasite protection, and simply eyeballing the animal. Has the value of the routine exam been communicated to the average pet owner? I don't believe so.