Dr. Karen Felsted asks: What do you think is causing the decline in veterinary visits?

Using the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study to Bring More Pets and Pet Owners into Your Practice

You’ve probably heard about the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study; you’d have to have been living in a cave not to. The study was released last year and identified the most significant reasons veterinary visits have been declining and, more importantly, what you can do about it. This study is arguably the most actionable piece of work ever undertaken in veterinary medicine and many of the findings are easy to implement in your practice.

Let’s talk first about some of the trends we’ve been seeing in veterinary medicine over the last decade. There is all sorts of evidence that demonstrates pet visits, new clients, active clients, transactions, patients per veterinarian per week and the percentage of pet-owning households who visit a veterinarian have all been declining over the past 5-15 years. Whether you look at pet owner studies or veterinary practice activity studies, you see the same downward trends. What is particularly concerning is that these downward trends in veterinary care usage occurred during a time when the pet population was increasing.

One of the most important things to remember is that all of these declines started before the recession. The recession certainly exacerbated the situation, but its not the root cause of the decline in the use of veterinary care. Unfortunately, we as a profession largely ignored these declines because our practices seemed to be otherwise doing well financially—revenue was growing at a rate well above inflation and veterinarian compensation and take home earnings were also increasing.

Before we get into the findings from the study and the changes that practices should focus on, let’s hear from you. What do you think has been causing the decline in veterinary visits.  And what do you think has been the most significant factor?

3 Responses to “Dr. Karen Felsted asks: What do you think is causing the decline in veterinary visits?”

  1. Dan Kramer

    I think Dr. Felstead’s comments are spot on with one minor exception. Veterinarians have done little to proactively position themselves with the migration of flea & tick protect moving OTC. Additionally, the increased competition for the veterinary pharmacy only compounds this fiscal environment.

  2. Joseph Knecht DVM

    The most significant factor is that we simply have too many veterinarians competing for the available pool of clients who will recognize and pay for veterinary services. Projected shortfalls that were based on veterinarians going into other non clinical fields were based on the delusional idea that a broadly trained generalist DVM is employable in many fields which is a fallacy. In a section of the KPMG study of 1999 about non clinical opportunities, veterinarians judged that they were qualified for a number of positions in which the non-veterinarian industry professional saw no use for hiring a DVM unless they had the additional MS/PhD knowledge specific to the industry. The result is that more veterinarians went into the arena of small animal practice where they were most employable with their education, saturating the field and dividing the pool of paying clients among a greater number of veterinarians and lowering salaries so that it was easier for non-profits clinics to hire the most expensive asset (the DVM) at a lower cost.

    The decline of veterinary medicine today is the result of failing to innovate in education and effective practice models for both small and large animal practice over the past 40 years. Our wounds are largely self inflicted through a strong resistance to innovation because it means we have to abandon what we consider so “perfect” and “wonderful” about our profession and adapt to new realities on the outside.

  3. Karen Felsted

    Thanks for posting–I think you both bring up good points. The NAS workforce study is actually being released this week. There is a teleconference about it Wed and a summary report that can be downloaded the same day. Don’t know what it will say or how current the data will be but we need this kind of info. Can’t wait to see it! The AVMA has also hired a company to do a workforce study which should have more current data and build on this NAS info.

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