View From The Top

Barking up the same tree.

view from the top

Barking Up the Same Tree

What can veterinary medicine teach us about dispensing and online sellers?

Gary Gerber, O.D.

Are we going to the dogs or is veterinary medicine going the way of optometry? I was recently asked to speak to veterinary medicine pharmaceutical company executives. The topic was, “How has optometry addressed the competitive pressures of online contact lens and eyeglass sellers?”

My initial reaction: Why would they care? Would online contact lens sellers target dogs? Doubtful. Instead, this group was concerned about the possible erosion of vetdispensed drugs due to the growing number pet drug websites. While they claim it’s more of an annoyance than a significant problem (a 2010 Consumer Reports study cited only 6% of dog and cat owners shopped online), they are examining now what other industries have done about this.

Perhaps the bill, “H.R. 1406: Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2011” has something do with their concern. Sound familiar?

The similarities to optometry are striking: Consumers asking for prescriptions, proliferation of online sellers and the government mandating the handing over of prescriptions. But what’s less obvious are the two industries’ reactions.

Optometry’s response

Optometry sat on the sidelines and passively waited while dispensing websites geared up to steamroll our in-office sales. Only when these sites were nationally advertised and widely publicized did practices consider strategies to deal with them. Now, with online eyeglasses in their quickly ramping-up “infancy,” we give only lip service about how to deal with them.

Veterinary response

Vets don’t expect H.R. 1406 to pass, yet they are already circling their collective practice-building wagons to deal with this impending threat. They are actively investigating and launching strategies now.

Whatever our next practicebuilding challenge might be, we must learn from our vet counterparts about how to best prepare for it. Their strategies can be put into two main categories.

  1. They have a very focused sense of who they are and what they do. Successful vets are in the animal health business and in the business of facilitating the strong emotional bond between pet owners and a healthy pet. They make it easy and inviting to do business with their practices, and they never stray from that position. For that reason, dispensing medications from their practices isn’t simply an economic choice. They believe it to be the right choice, since it supports their base belief of taking the best care of the pet and, in turn, the well being of the owner. Having the owner have to go elsewhere for medication would detract from their stated mission.
  2. They employ staff that “gets it.” Their staff understands, intellectually and emotionally, the complex needs of the pet and in particular, the pet owner. For that reason, the front-desk staff member finds it second nature to proudly say, “Here is Spot’s Rimadyl. It should be taken twice a day with food. If you have any questions, please call us. Today’s fees are $147.” They are proud and nonapologetic, as they have the pets and their owners’ best interests at heart. Period.

How to fend off the attack

In order to fend off the next attack on our practices, optometrists need to be as forward thinking and genuine in our missions as our veterinary counterparts. Any less of a focus doesn’t bode well for our patients. OM