Increasing Veterinary Practice Visits
By Todd Brodersen
Ways you can help your veterinary practices better understand client trends
In a few recent industry presentations, it has been reported that the number of veterinary office visits has been declining. The dollars per visit are increasing, but the actual number of office visits is down. Pet ownership is believed to have gone up by a very small percentage.
With more pets and a good economy, why would veterinary visits be down? Some think that veterinarians may be pricing themselves out of the market. It is important to know if your customers are experiencing similar trends.
From pet owners to pet parents
The pet owner demographic is changing. The Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) have long been the generation that has made up the majority of the population of pet owners, and brought about the acceleration of the “Pet Parent” mentality versus the “Pet Owner” mentality.
The new, larger, pet owning public is now made up of a generation called the Millennials (born between 1981-1996). Millennials are also part of the “Pet Parent” movement. (For more on this topic, read the April 2019 sales column “Boomers and Millennials.”)
What does this have to do with office visits and the health of your veterinary customer’s business?
Millennials are far more conditioned to research information online about their pet’s illness before they make a call to the veterinarian, and are prone to their own version of “diagnosis via the internet.” While they may or may not act on the information they gather, they are certainly deciding whether or not they need to go see the vet based on what they read on the internet. The habit of fact-finding on the internet can also lend itself to price shopping for the treatment associated with the self-found diagnosis, whereas the Baby Boomer generation was just the opposite. Baby Boomers considered the veterinarian as the expert and any pet health issues were addressed by first contacting and then visiting the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
For the most recent 36-month period, small animal specialty and mixed practices slightly under-indexed in terms of growth, while emergency/specialty and low-cost providers realized +/- 20% growth for the same period. This could be interpreted as pet owners not coming to the veterinarian unless it was an emergency. Include the low-cost providers and it appears that veterinarians may no longer have the same perceived value that they have had in the past.
Veterinarians are still the pet owner’s No. 1 choice when it comes to animal health advice; however, this does not mean that veterinarians are always the first to be consulted. Internet searches to learn about anything quickly is a reality for the majority of the U.S. population today. Search results are often brought to the practice with the younger generation of pet owners. A more educated client can be a good thing, yet it can also be very bad when information is inaccurate or in conflict with the findings of the veterinarian. How do we help our customers grow in a market that has so much change happening?
With the changes in demographics happening at a rapid pace, it is important for industry representatives to be more in tune to the market that they serve. Understanding the changes and educating your customers on those changes is a step in the right direction. Veterinary practices need assistance in understanding what is happening outside of the practice. Delivering industry trends and information is a great service that you can provide. Many of your veterinary customers are well versed in what it takes to manage their practice. When changes come around that suddenly affect their business, but their methods and business formulas haven’t changed internally, it can be confusing to a business owner. Trends can be hard to identify until they are a pain point. Being proactive in a changing market is often the best defense.
Position yourself as your customer’s partner by asking questions about their business. Have they seen a reduction in overall visits? Have they seen an increase in treatments and emergencies? Have they seen a decrease in wellness visits and preventative services?
Even if they do not readily know the answers to those questions, you will be providing an outside perspective that may cause them to investigate their business before the trend becomes something that they have to contend with. These types of partnering activities are exactly what veterinary practices are looking for from their trusted industry representatives. Offering potential solutions and making recommendations are activities that take planning, and an established relationship for them to be taken seriously.
A simple client questionnaire when they check in can be a great tool for today’s veterinary practices to implement. The brief questionnaires can ask about any other pets that reside in the household, the best way for the client to be communicated with, the frequency of messages, and their interest in a wellness program. The information in the questionnaire can then be turned into outbound marketing messages about topics that are relevant to the pet owner and delivered in the manner that the pet owner enjoys.
Work with your resources to see what you and your company can deliver. Helping your customers to better understand their clients is a great way to grow both of your businesses.