Veterinary challenges and solutions: Keeping an eye on the big picture

While it may not be intuitive to some of my colleagues, I think it’s essential to keep a very close eye on media streams outside of the veterinary world. While our trade websites (, Veterinary Practice News, among others) and our veterinary associations (local, state and of course the AVMA as well as specialty associations) and the Veterinary information Network are important when it comes to staying informed and updated, it is also important to watch mainstream and business news. In other words, don’t just post on Twitter — watch your streams for trends. Subscribe to the Twitter feeds of the Wall Street Journal (better yet, subscribe to the WSJ, still one of the best sources for business news) and Bloomberg, as well as other influential media. Read People and Entertainment Weekly in the dentist’s office. Subscribe to KevinMD’s news feed, a tip I picked up from Dr. Beth Thompson, the top editor at, another great source to follow.

It’s especially advantageous to keep an eye out for news from companies with access to “big data”: Massive conglomerations of tiny transactions that can be predictive of future behavior. For example, Amazon, which earlier this week came out with a list of  “the most pampered pet cities in the U.S.”:

1. Miami 11. Sacramento, Calif.
2. Seattle 12. Raleigh, N.C.
3. Atlanta 13. Denver
4. San Francisco 14. Colorado Springs, Colo.
5. Portland, Ore. 15. Baltimore
6. Washington, D.C. 16. San Jose, Calif.
7. Las Vegas 17. Albuquerque, N.M.
8. Austin, Texas 18. Chicago
9. Tucson, Ariz. 19. Omaha, Neb.
10. San Diego 20. Virginia Beach, Va.

I would love to have our research team be able to dig more deeply into this data, but the fact that Amazon has put anything out about pets confirms not only our own proprietary research at VPI but also the American Pet Products Associations’ numbers reflecting the strong and continued growth in the pet sector. So why isn’t this translating as powerfully as it could be to our veterinary practices? In part, it’s because many Amazon purchases are impulse buys: It takes a single click and your goodies are on your front porch within a day or two. But it’s also because these pet purchases as not seen as budget-breaking. Look at the products Amazon has identified as popular in this space:

Most Popular Pet Products: The best-selling pet-related items based on the number of units sold in 2013 included the Cat Dancer 301 Cat Charmer Interactive Cat Toy, Kyjen Hide-A-Squirrel Puzzle Toy for Dogs and StarMark Clicker Dog Training System.

None of them are expensive, even through small monthly purchases can surely add up over the course of a year — which is why Amazon generates so much revenue! How can the veterinarian get into this picture? You’re not going to beat Amazon when it comes to an impulse behavior: Nobody jumps up, grabs the cat and races over for an unscheduled wellness exam (and thank heavens for that). But you can reduce the cost of entry for wellness care — by offering payment plans.

Now just wait. I am not talking about taking payments after the fact: We all know how well those work out, even if clients are unaware of the problems with them.

Because I keep an eye on other media streams, I noticed that a couple months back that Dr. Marty Becker asked pet-owners on his Facebook page if they wished their veterinarians offered payment plans — and the overwhelming majority said “yes”. Not surprisingly, many veterinarians chimed in and tried to explain why they didn’t — and in fact couldn’t — offer payment plans. Many of the pet-owners didn’t accept the explanation, and were starting to attack our profession when Dr. Becker deftly redirected the discussion to be more constructive.

I’m sure a lot of the veterinarians were very unhappy that their fiscally sound explanations of the problems with payment plans were met with such derision. And even worse: Many pet-owners in the comments describd veterinarians as “greedy” and “people who don’t really care about pets” because of problems with paying for their pet’s care. I saw the discussion in a very different light, as a confirmation of why we started our wellness programs at VPI: To lower the barrier of entry to wellness and preventive care, for the benefit of pets, pet-owners and veterinarians alike.

Check out our VPI Preventive & Wellness Services (P&WS, pronounced “paws”) and see how you can lower the cost of entry for your clients, improve your revenue stream and come out a hero on behalf of your clients’ pets. And without carrying the impossible burden of payments yourself — we handle it for you. You set up the programs you want and bundle them the way you think is best for your practice  — and yes, we’ll help you with it all. These customized wellness plans work in the background, with your practice’s name on them.

Our VPI®-Veterinary Economics Financial Health Study showed that many practices are seeing an increase in business as the economic improves from its disastrous fall late in 2008. That’s great news, but I think our rebound should be stronger, because our hit was bigger during the recession.  We know you can bond your existing clients to your practice more strongly with VPI-P&WS — and attract new clients as well. Speaking both as a veterinarian and as VPI’s Chief Veterinary Officer, I want our profession to have its rightful place in the pet industry, and I think VPI-P&WS can help make that happen. Let us show you the numbers.

A final bit of news on this topic, from the Bloomberg business news:  John Lechleiter, CEO of Eli Lilly & Co., talks about his company’s purchase of Novartis AG’s animal-health unit. He’s “bullish” on the future, and you should be, too — if you follow the larger trends and make your course adjustments wisely.