How to deal with the challenge posed by the internet pharmacies - Veterinary Practice
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How to deal with the challenge posed by the internet pharmacies

Greg Clay, MD of Vetsolutions regularly receives requests for help and advice on practice management issues and continues his series with an answer to another topical one…

Dear Greg,

Over the last 18 months I have seen the
revenue at my small animal practice fall
due to clients fulfilling prescriptions
through internet pharmacies, rather than
from my

dispensary. I
my clients
have a choice
of where to
medicines, but
would like to arrest this decline. Do you
have any ideas as to strategies I might
employ to solve this problem?


Vet and practice owner, Lancashire

Dear Patrick,

It’s certainly no secret that in the last
five years the pharmaceutical landscape
has shifted in veterinary medicine.
Consultants, practitioners and other
industry experts point to a steady
transformation rather than a seismic
shift, but that doesn’t make the move
any less unsettling.

Like you, many vets are feeling the
competitive pressure from providers of
online medicines and some feel this is
leading to a gradual erosion of what was
once a solid revenue stream.

In recent years, positive consumer
response to internet pharmacies,
motivated primarily by a perception of
low-cost and convenience, has led some
clients to choose internet suppliers
rather than buying medicines direct
from the practice.

This environment has caused
consumers to more readily identify
medications as commodities, and as a
consequence seek out the lowest-cost
provider. This is particularly true when
buying repeat prescriptions required for chronic conditions and, as when
shopping for other commodities, the
customers’ focus shifts to price and
convenience, rather than brand loyalty.

To defend your current position I would recommend focusing on those
areas where you believe you can add
value for your clients. Your face to face
interaction with owners and their pets
gives you a positive advantage over
internet providers and presents an
opportunity for you to leverage goodwill
and loyalty.

You should actively promote the
quality of staff, their knowledge, dedication and their
investment in training. By
remaining up-to-date with
the latest disease trends and
keeping abreast of recent
advances, you can provide
your clients with something
they simply cannot get from
the internet: the very best
possible personal advice.

Safe and ethical

Most internet pharmacies are safe and
ethical providers; however, this is not
always the case and whilst not engaging
in scare tactics, it is within your duty of
care to ensure that patients are being
given legitimate medicines that are
licensed by the appropriate authorities
and meet recognised standards.

In addition you should make clients
aware that if medicines are purchased
from unauthorised online pharmacies, it is unlikely that manufacturers’
guarantees will apply and insurance
companies may fail to reimburse for
medicines purchased.

The assumption that internet
pharmacies will always provide a lower
cost option than a practice can also be
challenged. Those practices that
routinely pass on manufacturers’
promotions and/or rebates will
frequently undercut their online

There are also certain pharma-
ceuticals that require specific storage
conditions, etc., and vets must ensure
clients are aware of any factors that
would discourage an online purchase.

Another option, open to all
veterinary practices and already being
taken up by many, is to combine the
benefits of the personal relationship you
enjoy with owners and their pets, with
the convenience and logistical
advantages of the internet and establish your own online pharmacy, and I know of many
practices that have taken
this route.

Currently, normal
regulations apply to the
prescription and supply of
medicines, irrespective of
whether the client physically
visits the practice premises,
or orders online.

Any veterinary surgeon
can supply medicines via a website or through direct mail ordering, but must
be able to demonstrate that they do so
in accordance with the Veterinary
Medicines Regulations (VMR).

The online pharmacies that are
currently hosted by veterinary practices
themselves, under the professional
control of veterinary surgeons, have in
some cases developed into large revenue
generating companies in themselves.

Those practices that have adopted
this method of servicing the medicinal
needs of their patients have done so in
an attempt to retain their clients, rather
than lose the revenue created from
pharmaceutical sales. As a by-product
they also have given themselves the
opportunity to attract new clients via
the additional profile they gain from
their internet pharmacy presence.

Whether the online option is the
wisest choice for clients and their
animals depends on how the practice is
delivering its service and care.

Convince clients

If a practice offers little in terms of
advice and personal delivery, they must
accept that owners are more likely to
select the cheapest option when it
comes to buying medicines, particularly
if these are regular or repeat

The lesson is to convince clients
that by buying medicines direct from
your practice (or from an internet
pharmacy under your direct control),
they can have complete confidence and
reassurance, as well as competitive
pricing and convenience.

Whether viewed as an opportunity
or threat, the clear message is that the
internet pharmacy model is here to stay
and practices must adapt their ways of
working to take full advantage of the
changing environment and the
opportunities this presents.

I would encourage you to explore
the potential of each of the options and
work out which is best for your practice.
By employing strategies that help
you attract and retain more clients and
effectively treat the animals under your
care, you can more readily adapt to the
needs of your clients in a positive way,
rather than ignoring the changing
dynamics of the market.

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