Local economies put pressure on practitioners


National Report - Foreclosures and job losses are taking their toll on clients, and veterinarians are starting to feel the pinch.

National Report — Foreclosures and job losses are taking their toll on clients, and veterinarians are starting to feel the pinch in their practices.

Survival in South Beach: Dr. Richard Rogoff is holding his own in Miami by offering specialty services, but says even in an area with a lot of wealthy clients, pet owners are becoming more hesitant to spend.

Miami general practice owner Dr. Richard Rogoff says even the glittery beaches of Miami aren't safe from recession, with even richer clients cutting back on non-essential services.

"We do see that, unless there's a problem, people are postponing their wellness exams and vaccines and putting off dental work," Rogoff says.

And in the heartland, where the manufacturing jobs most affected by the recession are located, the squeeze is even tighter. More patients are coming in with problems caused by owners putting off treatments, but there's not much people can do, says Dr. Wendy Madura of Meridian, Idaho.

"We're definitely seeing people in here a lot with a loss of a job who have to be real careful," Madura says, explaining that one of her area's largest employers just ordered a massive layoff.

Dr. Patrick Smith in Fresno, Calif, hasn't suffered as much, but he offers a niche house-call service. Still, with 30,000 people leaving the state each day and many foreclosures in California, he sees his clients starting to scale back.

All of these veterinarians are in different situations and different places, but their problems seem to be part of a nationwide predicament.

In DVM Newsmagazine's 2009 State of the Profession Survey, 61 percent of veterinarians said their local economy was negatively affecting their business. More of them are being less picky nowadays, taking any paying client. They also report decreased client bases over the last three years.

But almost 60 percent still predict their revenue will increase over the next three years, and Smith says crea-tivity is key to staying afloat.

"It may be that they (clients) will spend a little bit less money, and we've got to find creative ways to address some of the issues they're dealing with," he says.

"They might not be able to afford diagnostics; they might not even be able to afford the house call. That being the case, we may still be able to do something."

In a recent case, Smith says a client couldn't afford diagnostics for an older dog, but by taking the history and learning about the dog's symptoms, he was able to give the animal some medication to help it. It wasn't all he would have liked to do, but it was something, Smith says.

As a house-call veterinarian, Smith doesn't have staffing problems, and Madura says her clinic was lucky by having a few technicians go out on maternity leave recently, with the others in the practice stepping in to help answer phones and assist clients.

But times like these call for tough decisions and trimming the fat if necessary, even if it means cutting staff and inventory, Rogoff says.

A strong business sense is critical, he explains, having been in business in Miami since 1972 and weathering many economic ups and downs.

"I don't think it's a recession, it's a depression," Rogoff says. "It's very pertinent to be a good business manager at this time. I think the people who will make it know how to survive. ... You have to adjust to the economy."

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