The incredible vanishing veterinary visit
Now you see 'em, now you don't. This amazing vanishing act that pet owners are performing at veterinary practices across the country spells bad news for pets. After all, veterinarians can't diagnose or treat animals who aren't brought in.
Now, perhaps veterinary visits are down at your clinic and your boss has asked you to do something about the problem. Or maybe you've tasked yourself to step up and make a difference. And if you're one of the lucky ones, how do you stay ahead of the curve? Let's look at the reasons behind the drop in visits and how you can bring magic back to your practice.
Pet care in crisisEvidence shows a long-standing decline in veterinary visits. And it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Half of all veterinarians had fewer patient visits in 2010, compared with 2009, according to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, a research initiative conducted by Bayer Animal Health, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, and Brakke Consulting.
Cats, in particular, are in serious need of preventive care. Data from Banfield's 800 hospitals in 2011 showed their practices saw two million dogs but only 430,000 cats—despite the fact there are about 20 percent more owned cats than dogs. According to the AVMA, 36 percent of cat-owning households received no veterinary care in 2006. And many suggest, given economic realities, that this number is higher today.
If clients aren't visiting the veterinarian, and the economy continues its sloth-like recovery, what can you do to make a difference? According to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, there are six primary factors that explain the decline in veterinary visits. The environmental factors include the recession, fragmentation of veterinary services, and proliferation of Internet information. The client factors are that clients don't understand the need for services, they suffer from sticker shock, and they resist bringing their cats to the veterinarian. Let's examine each of these factors and explore what you can do.
> The recession. A poor economy and unemployment has affected the number of pet visits. But it's important to remember that the decline in visits began before the recession, so it's not the only cause.
> Fragmentation of veterinary services. Simply put, pet owners have more options for places to go to get Fluffy's food, flea and tick preventives—and even, in some cases, vaccinations.
I admit the first two factors are out of your hands. Unless you're eying Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's job, there's not much you can do about the economy. You also can't stop fragmentation in veterinary medicine.
The good news is that you can help your practice owner address the four remaining factors. Just remember, there's no magic solution. So some ideas will make sense to implement in your practice, while other ideas may not.