How injectables help me compete with outside pharmacies

July 17, 2019
Adam Christman, DVM, MBA

Many veterinary practices have seen their pharmacy sales for oral and topical drugs shrink. Have you explored all the injectables on the market?

Which pharmacies are fine?

In recent years, the FDA has used the acronym “AWARE” to guide pet owners in using online pharmacies for their pet medicines. It stands for:

  • Ask your veterinarian if buying a particular drug online is advisable and if additional monitoring might be required.
  • Watch for red flags; for instance, if the online pharmacy doesn't require a veterinarian's prescription.
  • Always check the website in question for accreditation, such as participation in the Vet-VIPPS program.
  • Report suspicious pharmacies to the FDA.
  • Educate yourself about online pet pharmacies.

When I speak at veterinary conferences, I'm often asked by practice owners and managers about best practices for raising fees. And sometimes the question gets specific: How do we account for inflation without sacrificing profit and losing out to online pharmacies? But here's the thing: Increasing prices doesn't necessarily result in increased revenue. (Need a refresher?)

Instead, it's important to look at past trends to understand how changing your prices has affected your average transaction amount and the overall number of transactions. Maintaining price increases below the rate of inflation will help to improve compliance and client visits, ensuring that more pets get proper veterinary care. If online price matching occurs in your hospital, be sure to make sure your practice isn't losing money (as often happens).

So, how do online pharmacies get away with charging our clients so little?

Online pharmacies get bulk purchasing

When online pharmacies purchase large amounts of pet medications, they receive bulk pricing, and at least some of that savings is passed onto the client. (Editor's note: Buying groups can get you better deals too; check out this article.) It's often recommended to keep three months' worth of inventory on the shelf; some recommend just one month. Purchasing such small amounts can make it difficult for the average veterinary clinic to enjoy bulk discounts.

Online pharmacies have more efficient overhead costs

Online pharmacies also benefit from additional space. In other words, they have the room hospitals don't to store bulk amounts of medications. They also don't deal with as much product expiration-another problem veterinary hospitals face if their medications aren't being turned over effectively or sold to the client in time.

Not all pharmacies …

Some companies out there are looking to help-not compete with-veterinary practices. Two big players are Covetrus, through its Vets First Choice brand, and Vetsource.

What online pharmacies don't have that you do

Know what veterinary hospitals can dispense that online pharmacies can't? Injectables, which bring compliance back to the veterinarian. Manufacturers ensure their injectables' safety, efficacy, speed of onset and quality, which are additional reasons these products just make sense. Make sure you educate the entire team-receptionists, assistants and technicians-on the benefits of injectables so they help reinforce your message.

Here are a few key phrases I use in the exam room in my recommendations for injectables:

  • “Tell me your experience in pilling your furbaby.” This helps you discover whether oral administration is tough for this client.
  • “I like to think of this injection as a crockpot: We set it and forget it.” This emphasizes ease of use.
  • “Do you ever forget to give your dog heartworm, flea or tick preventive at home?” This helps you check on compliance.
  • “Wouldn't it be easier to make sure your furbaby receives the proper and effective dose?” This makes the medical benefit to the pet clear to the client.

Online pharmacies are here to stay. The way in which we practice veterinary medicine, however, should never be stagnant. Our profession is constantly evolving and finding ways to make sure our patients safely receive the medication they deserve. This doesn't mean we have to lose profit over it. Being an effective, business-savvy veterinarian ensures good medicine for your patients-and a paycheck for yourself!

Dr. Adam Christman is chief veterinary officer at dvm360.