Have you seen a pet prescription commercial lately? One has several clients sitting impatiently in a veterinary hospital's reception area grousing about having to waste time waiting for their pet's medication and the cost of it. (Those who've seen it may also remember the feeling of your blood beginning to boil.)
I've heard a lot of grumblings from practitioners. "They're spreading lies and hurting our business," you say. And yet I've seen few veterinarians do more than roll over and surrender.
No matter what your opinions about consumer-focused Internet pharmacies are, they're here to stay. So what are you going to do? How are you going to respond?
Before you debate the merits of tucking your tail, consider this: When you look at the square feet you use, your pharmacy is likely the most profitable area in your practice. Are you willing to give up that 15 percent to 20 percent of your income without a fight? Your online competitors are betting you are.
Another reason to fight: The medications you dispense are important for your patients. This service should be provided by licensed veterinarians who know what they're doing and who have complete patient medical records and an established relationship with the client and patient.
Of course before you jump into battle, you need to know your opponent. Some Internet pharmacies are very reputable; others are down right unethical. Some want to circumvent you and take all your pharmacy income; some want to collaborate for a piece of the pie. (For more, see "Not All Pharmacies are Created Equal".)
One way to educate yourself and your team: Get online and place an order for a commonly used product such as flea and tick medication or heartworm preventive. Go all the way to the "checkout screen." (You can cancel the order at the very end.) What was the total price? How did it compare to yours? Was the process easy or time consuming? What was the advantage of ordering over the Internet?
From our mailbox
According to a news exposé by Channel 5 News, WCVB in Boston, "in all but one case the medication purchased from the veterinarian was less expensive" than the consumer Internet pharmacy they tested. Clients aren't getting this important message. We can't let the flow of misinformation continue. You and your team need to ensure clients know the truth.
Once you know what you're dealing with, you can decide how you wish to compete. What could you do to make it easier for clients to refill a prescription with you? Can clients order the medication through your practice Web site? Can they e-mail you a request to refill a prescription? Will you mail the medication to their house? Will you refill a prescription automatically and send it to the client? Are you pricing competitively?
Explaining your approach (click to enlarge)