We Didn’t Go To Vet School To Sell Products

I like to write about saving money on pet care, yes, I’ll admit it.

Yeah, I’ll admit it. I like to write about saving money on pet care.

Pet owners eat this stuff up—and so do my editors. They love the insider’s guide to saving money, especially in a roller-coaster economy. And I have to admit, I enjoy offering value to my readers, my clients and my employers.

Am I betraying my profession? Maybe, if you look at it through the lens of conventional wisdom, which says veterinarians need to compete on service prices and make up losses on drug, food and product sales.

If I’d betrayed my own, however, I’d be taking money out of my pocket, too. I do have an obligation to my patients and, by extension, to their owners. I have an obligation to provide a valuable service.

Which brings up the aforementioned word, one whose meaning I hold dear:

val-ue (noun)

  1. An amount expressed in money or another medium of exchange that is thought to be a fair exchange for something.
  2. The adequate or satisfactory return or recompense for something.

Expressed in personal terms as it applies to my patients, “value” means I offer a service I have been well-educated to provide at a fair market price. When it comes to drugs and products, I have the skills to recommend them and apply my knowledge to their implementation.

But other individuals and entities—and this is crucial—have a better grasp on bringing them to my patients at a fair market price. I do not.

That is, I have a responsibility to offer my expertise in the area of general medicine and surgery. Here’s where I’ve been trained to provide value.

In the course of this work I may recommend therapies that include drugs, foods and products. If my clients want to pay more for drugs, foods and products out of convenience, I may of course provide them. But it is not my responsibility to do so. That area is not at the core of my ability to provide value—not unless I can provide $4 courses of prescription drugs or other substantive savings.

Sure, I have an obligation to my profession, to the practice I work for and to my son, but that’s exactly why I choose to price my services in a non-competitive manner. I decide what my services are worth, price them accordingly, teach my clients to seek value in their prescription drug, food and product choices, and let the chips fall where they may. And I still make far more than the average associate.

Why? Because in training my clients to spend their dollars wisely I gain respect for my services. My clients are more loyal. I gain new clients at a faster rate. And, truth be told, because some of them still buy products despite my explanations and script offers.

I know some of you don’t offer your clients written prescriptions. I know some of you don’t authorize faxed refill-authorization paperwork.

I also know some of you do it for ethical reasons because you don’t trust outside pharmacies and online retailers to provide safe and effective prescription drugs and veterinary-only products.

I know because I read and respond to your e-mails through my daily blog. Some of you are irate that I would take the position I do and you’ll often express your discontent.

But that’s OK. I get it. The current market forces are ripe for client abuse. Some of you can successfully argue that your clients would receive inferior products if they sought them on their own.

I, too, fear the gray markets. I counsel my clients to steer clear of no-prescription-needed pharmacies and fly-by-night operations with no reputations to protect.

But I do so with the knowledge that there are plenty of reputable alternatives to our own well-stocked pharmacy shelves; that so-called “vet only” products are merely making a pit stop behind our reception desks as they grow their market share in any given therpeutic arena.

Drug and product manufacturers have seen the writing on the wall, too. They know that with sufficient market share in hand they can successfully move on to larger channels of distribution.

There’s nothing necessarily sinister there. “It’s just business,” they’ll say. “You got your stash of Halloween candy. It’s our turn now.” And, in the meantime, I’m getting my share. But I won’t consume it at the risk of my reputation and my responsibility to provide value to my clients—not without responsibly informing them of their safe alternatives. Not when I know they have limited funds I’d rather they spend on my services.

Then there are those among us who believe our veterinary credentials give us carte blanche to earn our living by recommending pet foods, drugs and supplies: “If the drug, product and food companies are going to use US, than we’ll damn well use THEM.”

The only catch here is that:

  • The companies that can buy greater access to veterinarians and offer us the largest profit margin are the ones whose products we’ll install in our arsenals and recommend, regardless of their safety and efficacy. It’s only human nature to act on our base pocketbook motivations.
  • Our clients and our patients, by extension, suffer economically and medically when we play the business-minded middlemen.
  • Our reputations suffer when our links to industry are divulged. Remember the pet food recall? Why do you think human docs aren’t allowed such close ties with industry as our practices enjoy?

Given the economic downturn, more of you may be seeing things my way as your clients begin turning to other sources for savings.

And I won’t say, “I told you so.” I’ll just be satisfied that our profession will no longer feel compelled to stock drugs, food and products in a manner that makes an increasing number of us uncomfortable as we ponder the real reason we went to vet school.  <HOME>

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, is a small animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at www.dolittler.com. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her business degree from Wharton in 1997.

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