Bringing clients back—communicating the value of care (Proceedings)
Veterinarians and their team members have been working for years to educate pet owners about the care their pets need in order for them to stay happy and healthy. Undoubtedly we've made some progress, but results from the recently released Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study indicate we have a long way to go; many pet owners simply don't understand the need for what is generally accepted as routine care.
More than a few reports have shown that the economic recession of 2007 to 2009 had a negative impact on the number of patients seen at many companion animal veterinary practices in the United States. There is also substantial evidence that the erosion in the number of patient visits began well before the start of the recession. The prospect that the number of dog and cat visits to veterinary clinics was decreasing at a time when the pet population was increasing raised concerns about whether pets were getting adequate veterinary care, as well as what impact this decrease might have on the economic state of the veterinary profession, and whether the trend toward fewer veterinary visits was reversible.
The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study was designed to confirm the decrease in the number of patient visits that has occurred over time, to identify factors responsible for this decrease, and to identify specific actions that companion animal practitioners could take to encourage more frequent veterinary visits for dogs and cats in order to reverse the trend. The study was a collaborative effort between Bayer Animal Health, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues and Brakke Consulting, Inc. and included in-depth interviews with companion animal practice owners, qualitative interviews with pet owners and a robust, statistically valid national online quantitative survey of pet owners.The study identified six factors that have contributed to the decrease in visit numbers:
• 2007 to 2009 US recession—The recession and resulting unemployment had negative impacts on spending for veterinary services, exacerbating the decline in visits that had already been occurring
• Fragmentation of veterinary services—There were more points of care and a wider variety of veterinary services available to pet owners; while this didn't contribute to the total decrease in veterinary visits; it meant that pet visit were spread out amongst more practices
• Proliferation of Web usage—Pet owners frequently consulted Web sources regarding pet health issues, rather than calling or visiting their veterinarians
• Inadequate understanding of the need for routine care, particularly examinations—Many pet owners primarily associated veterinary care with vaccinations (i.e., shots) and because their pets did not require vaccinations as frequently, visited their veterinarian less often
• Cost of veterinary care—Many pet owners expressed shock at the size and frequency of price increases at their veterinary clinics and did not find value for the price paid
• Feline resistance—Because many cats aggressively resist being put in carriers and transported to the veterinary clinic and show signs of stress during veterinary visits, many cat owners deferred taking their animal to the veterinarian
Veterinarians and their team members spend so much time immersed in pet care that it is easy to forget that not every pet owner knows what we know. The lack of knowledge is truly alarming and because of it, many pets aren't getting even the minimum level of care they need. In the Bayer study, 36% of pet owners agreed that were it not for shots, they would not take their pet to the veterinarian. Similarly, 24% agreed with the statement that routine checkups were unnecessary. These pet owners do not recognize the many types of illnesses their pets may have that would not be visible to an untrained eye and that could have serious consequences if left untreated. Heartworm disease and intestinal parasites are just two of the common conditions that come to mind. And they don't recognize the value of the physical exam and the opportunity that an appointment with a veterinarian gives them to learn more about what they can do to take better care of their pet at home; for example, what kinds of food would be best for their particular pet, the need for heartworm preventative, and the kinds of symptoms to look for that would indicate a more serious medical problem.