A Target stores trial program filling veterinary prescriptions for animal-specific medications is being well received by customers, the Minneapolis-based retailer reported.
Human medicines used for animals have long been available at pharmacies, but until now, animal-specific medications have not been.
Target pharmacies already fill veterinary prescriptions for human medications meant for pets at all its locations. Target consumers can even shop the $4 generic program for both people and pet medication.
Target attributes the positive response to its PetRx pilot program to convenience, affordability and guest service, company spokeswoman Erin Madsen told Veterinary Practice News.
The pilot program launched last fall in 35 Target pharmacy locations in Minnesota, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Madsen said it aims to provide convenience and value for Target guests who own pets.
Pilot locations can fill veterinary prescriptions for animal-specific medications such as HeartGard, Atopica, Clavamox and Deramaxx, Madsen said.
Madsen declined to provide details on the future of the program, saying Target has “no additional growth plans to share at this time.”
News of the pilot program seems to have flown largely under the veterinary community’s radar. Three of four of the state veterinary medical associations in the states with the pilot program weren’t aware of it.
Randy Hammon, DVM, CVJ, past president of the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association, said he had heard about the pilot program in passing but it hasn’t been a topic of discussion in his area.
If the program were to expand nationwide, or even take a similar form in other human pharmacies, it might generate more talk. At that level, veterinary practices would likely feel the impact on their income, Dr. Hammon said.
Veterinarians may be forced to charge more for their services to compensate for the loss, he said.
But there are other options, according to Hammon.
“Veterinary practices can’t compete with Target on a price-point comparison, but they can offer exceptional client service,” he said.
This means focusing on the practice’s positive attributes, including the ability to explain the service (i.e. why the medication is needed and how to administer it) and the matter of convenience, Hammon noted.
Hammon likened the convenience issue to paying more for a soda when you are running errands. You know you’re going to pay more than at a market, but you’re there now and it’s convenient, he said.
The clinic’s professional services coupled with the convenience factor of not traveling to another store to pick up medication may help veterinarians retain some of the business, he said.
Karen Felsted, DVM, CVPM, CPA, MS, CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, agrees that Target’s program could affect veterinary practice income, but it’s too soon to anticipate to what extent.
It will depend on how widespread the program becomes and at what price the products are sold, she said.
“The issue of product sales has been creeping in for some time,” Dr. Felsted said, referring to the influx of pet products available online and from other non-veterinary outlets. “This is one more side-step in the road.”
Veterinarians can’t rely on product sales as much as they could before, she added. Pricing on products is changing, but the key is that veterinarians can do something about it, Felsted said.
“We don’t have to give up,” she said.
Veterinarians may have to re-evaluate and be more strategic on how they price prescription medications, she added.
“The good news is that pet owners still have to get the prescription from the veterinarian,” Felsted said. “This gives the veterinarian a chance to educate the client about the value of their services.”
Target also sells Merial’s flea and tick treatment Frontline as an over-the-counter product, Madsen noted. The offering provides Target guests an affordable alternative to visiting a vet clinic, she said.
But Merial spokeswoman Natasha Mahanes said the company is not doing business with Target. Merial also makes HeartGard, one of the products Target pharmacies carry in the pilot program.
“Merial does not have commercial relationships with Target or any mass retailers, pet specialty retailers, online pet specialty Internet sites or warehouse stores, and cannot speculate on where they get their product,” Mahanes said.
“Merial has always distributed its products exclusively to licensed, actively practicing veterinarians, and we have not changed that policy.”