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Stop observing and start reacting

Stop observing and start reacting

Veterinary practices are losing ground — losing in new-client numbers and suffering from low patient visits. Failure to grab the bull by the horns and buck these negative trends will hurt many veterinary hospitals, but especially the independent practice.

The reality is that pet owners are not taking their new pets to the independent veterinary practice for care. According to the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s January 2020 Insiders’ Insights report, new-client numbers in 2019 fell by 11.9%, the fourth year in a row of decline.

Where are the pets going if not the traditional veterinary business? Lest you think the United States has fewer pets or fewer pet owners, both the American Pet Products Association and the North American Pet Health Insurance Association report considerable growth in the numbers of pet owners and insured pets. Why aren’t veterinary practices also growing in new clients and pet visits?

According to a study conducted by Guggenheim Securities, PantheraT and Animalytix, new dog and cat owners sought alternative outlets for veterinary checkups over the past 12 months. These included networks such as Banfield, clinics at retailers like Walmart, mobile pop-ups and holistic practitioners.

What makes these alternative care models so appealing? They provide engagement, convenience and price transparency. Let me repeat: engagement, convenience and price transparency.

Just take a stroll online through VetIQ, Banfield or VCA and you will easily see membership pricing details, recommendations, chat connections and appointment links. No hassles or phone calls, and it can be done anytime from anywhere. Why bother calling a local independent veterinary practice when everything can be done from a smartphone while binge-watching a Netflix series at 1 a.m.?

You see, pet owners today (think millennials) are changing the way they do business — from hailing a ride (Uber) and searching for information (Google) to obtaining health care for themselves (telemedicine) and scheduling pet vaccinations (alternative models).

What does an independent practice need to do to meet the demand for a new way of doing business? Take a hint from the 2019 Well-Managed Practice Benchmark Study. The top services planned for these high-performing practices included telemedicine, enrolled preventive/membership care plans, urgent care hours and hospice care.

No need to fret; technology is available. You can find companies whose products and services offer easy integration and immediate application, satisfying demands for engagement, convenience and price transparency.

None of these initiatives are going to break the bank. What they will break is the negative trends in patient visits and new-client numbers that the veterinary industry has seen over the past few years. Don’t let another year go by. Now is the time for independent practices to answer client demands and take back the lead in delivering patient care and client service.

Dr. Audrey Wystrach is founder and CEO of One.Vet, a network using technology and design to reimagine veterinary care.