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Improving pet care by getting clients in the door (Proceedings)


Part of the reason technicians, doctors and other team members choose to work in the veterinary field is because they care about pets and want to see them get the care they deserve. Unfortunately, results from the recently released Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study indicate many pet owners 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. Three are considered to be environmental factors:
     • 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 visits 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

There were also three client-driven factors as follows:
     • 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

While the recession and the fragmentation in the veterinary market are difficult to deal with at the practice level, there are many things everyone working in a veterinary practice can do to reverse the other four factors causing declines in veterinary visits.