Vet visits on the decline ... and what that means for pets
Ever since we implemented three-year protocols for vaccines, veterinarians have been experiencing a decline in vet visits. We've recognized that our clients have become less compliant with the fundamental need for regular examination now that the formerly annual vaccine requirement has become a thing of the past.
We get it. We'd be stupid not to recognize that a progressive vaccine protocol means a readjustment in how our clients perceive our services. Just as dentists were forced to reevaluate their approach to dental care in the wake of municipal water fluoride supplementation (far fewer cavities to treat), veterinarians have been thrust — kicking and screaming sometimes — into the twenty-first century of veterinary care.
But veterinarians who resist change are not altogether wrong in their fear-mongering ways. Those who decried the change, á la Chicken Little, have been proven somewhat right in their predictions. Pet owners have lived up to the expectations of those who feared the worst: Yes, less frequent vaccinations does mean fewer vet visits overall. And that's absolutely NOT best for pets.
And yet, when you consider the once-in-a-lifetime recession that's befallen us, is it so shocking that our pets have taken a back seat to our collectively floundering finances? That some pet owners might consider a reduced-frequency vaccination protocol as license to neglect their pets' general health? Not really, especially give a recent report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association:
Some pet owners think that routine checkups are unnecessary for dogs and cats. The cost of veterinary care can be much higher than many pet owners expect. Plus, cats are plain difficult to take to the clinic.
These are the three primary client-related factors associated with the recent decline in veterinary visits for dogs and cats, according to findings from the new Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study.
The study identified three primary environmental factors associated with the decline: the recession, fragmentation of veterinary services (i.e., visiting low-cost clinics for wellness and vaccination, where available), and the use of the Internet as a source of information about animal health.
Fifteen percent of pet owners in the survey said that with the Internet, they don't rely on the veterinarian as much. Thirty-nine percent look online first if a pet is sick or injured.
Ah, yes, the dreaded Internet, where pet owners eschew direct veterinary intervention via basic information resources. How wrong! Don't pet owners realize that by circumventing traditional veterinary care they're missing out on the benefits of early detection and early intervention?
Perhaps they do, but…
When veterinary care starts to cost so much and information comes so cheap, why NOT access the readily available resources? I'd think you'd be stupid not to. But then, that's coming from a veterinarian who waxes poetic on the subject of social media. And one who advocates the (generally successful) use of pillowcases as a means of getting troublesome kitties to the vet's.
However, the most interesting thing about the veterinary stress-fest associated with the decrease in vet visits is that complaints are coming hard and fast despite the flatline nature of veterinary hospital revenues, which can only have three explanations:
1. Veterinarians practicing in high-unemployment dead zones, where it’s unlikely they'll see the light for years, are truly suffering. And yet they're holding back, seeing as they're less stressed than their local brethren.
2. Veterinarians practicing in moderately affected areas are managing to survive … but only just. They're surviving, but making their lack of success well known.
3. Vets are raising prices while experiencing a decline in visits and are managing to make it work through sheer ballsiness. And yet they complain. Because they recognize that were it not for the egregious acts of those within the financial sector, they'd be managing to pay off their student loans in a reasonable time-frame, while only half-way enjoying what their MBA compatriots manage.
Me? I'm lucky enough to enjoy three careers: clinical, journalistic, and business consulting. None of which functions independently of the other, but the sum of which keeps me from staying up at night with visions of annual vaccines in my head.
Dr. Patty Khuly