I know this topic has been mentioned before, but I feel so strongly about it and I am so worried about it, that I think it deserves yet another post.
The majority of veterinary practices are privately owned entities and are considered "small businesses". We are some of the remaining few (sadly, few) professions who are still dominated by the small business model. Yes it is changing - corporations like VCA, Banfield, etc. are moving in and trying to buy us up and take over. There is talk about forcing the small guys out of circulation and moving towards a model more like human medicine, where there are small satellite clinics where you go to get your wellness done, but you have to go to the bigger central hospital if you need more in-depth care. The satellite clinics won't have the equipment, staff or abilities to handle things that we do now.
This means you can't get your bloodwork, xrays or other tests done immediately (one of those things people love about vet med) because it wouldn't be done at a satellite clinic. It would be more like a human model, which to me means "pain in the ass" model.
In a lot of ways, it makes business sense. Owning (and yes I am an owner) a veterinary hospital is becoming less and less worth it on many levels. Our "rewards" for owning are diminishing at a rapid rate - and by "rewards" I don't really mean fancy things; I mean things like... taking home a salary and funding my retirement. When simply earning a living becomes so difficult that it's no longer worth it, well, you'll start to see the disappearance of the small mom-and-pop veterinary clinics, just like you are seeing a loss of those types of businesses in other realms as well.
So what does this mean for the public and why am I writing this blog?
Let me put this into real, every day terms.
Small animal hospitals help fund their day to day operations through spays, neuters, vaccines, and in some cases, the sale of medications and supplies for pets. Things like, Frontline Plus, dewormers, heartworm preventatives, etc.
Selling these things - what some call "the bread and butter" of a practice, helps us keep other costs down so that people can still afford things like dentistry for their pets, or when their dog eats rocks, we can do an abdominal exploratory surgery without bankrupting our client.
But what is happening? Well, many of our "bread and butter" sales are disappearing. To non-profits who now do spays and neuters for so cheap (because they get donations and tax breaks that we private businesses DO NOT GET) that we can't compete, so we've lost that business. To low cost, high volume places that do shoddy work and basically lie to the public about the quality of care their pets receive. Products like Frontline Plus and others, have either gone over-the-counter (sold by Target, Wal-Mart, PetSmart, etc) And now, Big Box Pharmacies are going to start selling veterinary drugs, which will take yet another bite out of income for these small clinics who are merely trying to survive to begin with. I am writing more and more prescriptions for clients who can get their Rimadyl or Clavamox at a regular ol' human pharmacy now, for cheaper than I can sell it to them. I don't blame them, they need to save money. But it's a loss of income for my hospital, which translates to making it harder and harder to pay MY bills, pay MY payroll, and simply keep my doors open.
And it makes those emergency situations when your goofy lab ate a rock and I have to perform an abdominal surgery to remove it - all that much more expensive. Because I've lost other income that would normally cushion the costs of a surgery like that.
Now, let me say that I get it. I get that people want and need cheaper alternatives. I get that vet care can be expensive and I get that sometimes it's all you can do just to pay for vaccines. People do need alternatives.
Unfortunately, though, what they are doing to themselves is.... shooting themselves in the foot. Veterinary practices are actually bankrupting at an alarming rate, something that has NEVER happened in this history of this profession. We simply cannot compete any more with the loss of our "bread and butter" sales that subsidize the rest of the care we provide because, well, now we have to actually charge the actual amount it costs to provide real quality medical care. Without the "subsidy" of the income from the sales of products and medications and spays, neuters and vaccines.... well, when your pet really gets sick and needs major abdominal surgery, now we have to charge more for that to make up for the lost income.
Or we close our doors.
And that is what is happening. Slowly but surely, small practices are going out of business. The beloved model that evokes comments like, "Wow I sure wish you were MY doctor, because the care I get at my vet is SO much better than anything I can get in human medicine" is slowly but surely dying and becoming extinct.
So what am I asking of the public? Don't bitch and moan so much about the cost of things. Buy your drugs FROM YOUR VET, even if it costs $20 more. Price shop if you must, but if it's only a difference of $50, then go to your regular vet instead of the low cost place. Ask questions. Tour your vet's hospital. MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION.
Because the reality is that if you continue to go to low cost facilities for the "bread and butter" things, then when you really need good care, you won't get it... because you didn't support the real hospital and they went out of business.
But most of all, know that you are supporting A SMALL BUSINESS. Not just a vet. Not just a clinic. But A SMALL BUSINESS. America was built upon and sustains itself on small business. When the public insists on buying everything from Big Box stores or online for cheaper, they are hurting a small business, and ultimately, hurting themselves.
I don't expect this post to change anything. But I want to warn the American public that if they don't start supporting their veterinarians more, then the face of vet medicine is going to change rapidly and I suspect the American public isn't going to be very happy with what they get.
Shop local, stay local and spend your money at your vet even if it costs you a little more. Otherwise, don't complain down the road when we disappear. And yes, we are disappearing.