Mark J. Shaw
Mark J. Shaw is the president of MWI Animal Health, an international products supplier for veterinarians. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and Business from Oklahoma State University.
Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen significant changes across the animal health industry, including dramatic shifts in practice workflows and an evolved veterinarian-client relationship. Driven by a surge in ownership among younger generations, more pet owners now seek access to digital solutions as well as services that increase convenience and efficiency. While trust in veterinarians remains high and has grown over the past year, pet owners strive to be more self-reliant, taking a more critical look at recommended services and prices. In fact, 1 in 4 owners researches pet treatment options, according to a report from the United Veterinary Services Association.
The rapidly changing landscape and heightened demand for digital and e-commerce services can add new pressures to veterinary practices that already face mounting challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, adapting to the changing market dynamics is critical to maximize practice success and meet the evolving expectations of new pet parents.
As we’ve seen across health care — both human and animal — the pandemic and its ensuing safety restrictions have forced providers to revamp daily operations and accelerated a push toward more digital, convenient service offerings, like home delivery, online pharmacies and telehealth. While the new operational processes and expanded use of digital services were initially required to help clinics navigate the challenges brought by the pandemic, the continued use of these solutions — even after the pandemic — will enable clinics to optimize business practices and meet the needs of a more digitally engaged pet owner.
Expand E-Commerce and Online Pharmacy Services
Recent research suggests that pet owners are willing to spend more on their pets, with about 90% saying they are willing to pay $100 or more every month. The increase in overall pet spending coincides with a sharp rise in online shopping, which jumped by nearly 20% in the last year, according to the 2021-2022 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey. While most pet owners continue to purchase medications, grooming supplies, treats and pet food in-person at brick-and-mortar stores, a growing percentage shop online for products and supplies, including vitamins and supplements. We anticipate the trend will continue even after the pandemic as more owners seek the added convenience of online shopping and home delivery.
Online pharmacy services coupled with curbside pickup or home delivery increase convenience, help streamline on-hand inventory and improve compliance. In addition, Auto-refill and auto-shipment capabilities help eliminate common barriers that can lead to gaps in treatment or low client adherence. For example, veterinarians can set up auto-shipments for heartworm preventives and flea and tick products, along with text or email notifications that inform pet parents that the prescription has been filled.
Although online pharmacy and e-commerce sales historically represent a small percentage of revenue for veterinary clinics, it’s important to consider the shift toward more online shopping, particularly among younger pet parents. Veterinary clinics that establish or, in some cases, expand their online pharmacy and e-commerce services will be well-positioned to grow revenue and increase compliance.
Increase Telehealth Solutions
Since the onset of the pandemic, many veterinary practices have implemented telehealth services to enable consistent access to veterinary care and reduce the need for in-person visits, particularly during lockdowns. Telehealth solutions such as teletriage tools, remote monitoring and live video consultations help clinics extend their business, improve client relationships and deliver more connected care.
Given the urgent need for clinics to introduce more virtual and remote capabilities amid the pandemic, the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association issued telehealth guidelines for small animal practices. The guidelines outline strategies for integrating telehealth into practices and emphasize that telehealth is here to stay, even after the pandemic. The growing demand for digital solutions is driven, in part, by adults ages 26 to 40, who represent the vast majority of first-time pet owners and account for more than 50% of the market demand, according to the APPA survey.
To provide pet parents with improved access and convenience and streamline operations, veterinary clinics should consider using technology for a variety of services, ranging from e-triage and specialist consults to monitoring chronic conditions by tracking a pet’s vital signs, sleep or glucose levels.
Integrating telehealth services requires clinics to reimagine their workflow, which can seem daunting for already-overwhelmed practices. As such, practices should work with partners that offer access to robust technology platforms and can help incorporate the services into the workflow. For example, MWI Animal Health recently launched a team of technology solutions strategists who work closely with clinics to help identify business needs and recommend and implement solutions. While the adoption of telehealth is still relatively new, clinics need to streamline these services to deliver a more efficient, smoother process.
While some of the operational changes made during the pandemic were temporary, the shifts in consumer behaviors are likely to be much more permanent. Veterinary practices that embrace evolved consumer expectations and invest in tech-based services will be well-positioned to succeed.
Clinics should apply lessons learned from the pandemic to enhance their tech-based offerings and bolster their core capabilities. Whether it’s the continued expansion of online pharmacy services and e-commerce offerings or making telehealth services a permanent part of their service, veterinary practices should focus on technology capabilities that increase convenience and access. With support from the right partners, practices can implement new solutions that improve operational efficiencies and enable the practices to meet the needs of a more digitally engaged pet owner, all while continuing to deliver high-quality care.