pharmacies: are they an opportunity or threat? Like most things in life the answer is rarely clear cut and is usually about perspective – from where we, as individuals or companies, sit and the view we choose to see from that position. The subject was debated at the annual marketing forum of the Veterinary Marketing Association held at the House of Lords last month. The debate was led by a panel of six industry representatives and, whilst it was pretty evenly balanced, it quickly became clear that one issue not up for debate was whether or not internet pharmacies are here to stay. Of course they are. As each panellist in turn put forward his or her thinking on the subject, some common themes quickly came through. Most agreed that the threats posed by the presence of internet pharmacies include internet security, repeat prescription abuse, unauthorised veterinary medicinal products (VMPs), competent recipients, reporting of suspected adverse reactions (SARs), and responsibility (when things go wrong). Pricing pressure for small practices and new start-ups were also a concern. With 70% of the UK population apparently on line, and 90% of these having purchased from the internet, it seems that many practices have already risen to the challenge by either creating their own internet purchasing site, or hooking into someone else’s. Many were keen to point out that service and advice are the primary reason for consulting a vet and the thing most likely to keep clients coming back. But along with price, the lifestyle and time constraints of busy pet owners and farmers mean that for many, buying from an internet pharmacy is a highly convenient and efficient way of ensuring a continued supply of medicines to the animal(s) in their care. One point of concern raised involved the length of time that a newly diagnosed animal may have to wait if the owner decides to order its treatment from the internet. A possible solution would be for the vet involved to advise the owner that the pet needs treatment to start immediately and should take the primary course of treatment home from the practice. If further or ongoing treatment is required, rather than lose the repeat prescription to a potentially unsafe or unreliable pharmacy, vets could point owners in the direction of the practice’s own internet purchasing system. One of the “threats” discussed was that of responsibility when things go wrong. But for those practices that have their own internet purchasing site, or are working with one that enables client tracking, it must surely be possible to maintain connection with clients throughout the process. So, as internet pharmacies become a way of life for many clients, the question is, how can vets and the wider industry work together for the greater good of everyone involved? Lesley Johnson of the VMD announced that the VMD has been working hard to develop safeguards to help address as many of the issues as possible. Unfortunately, the VMD’s proposal of compulsory accreditation was vetoed by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, so a voluntary scheme is in the process of being developed. As the scheme is not a statutory requirement, there will be no fee charged for accreditation. Scheduled to be up and running by Spring 2012, the objective is to provide a platform for bona fide practices and pharmacies offering an internet service. The scheme will use a logo for accredited retailers who fulfil the VMD’s requirements for VMP internet trading, and will link to a list of these accredited organisations. This should enable animal owners to obtain their animal’s medication on the internet confident in the knowledge that they are dealing with a genuine supplier from whom they can safely make their purchase.
- The meeting was hosted by Lord Soulsby; the panel, chaired by Professor Sandy Trees, comprised: Bob Moore, who recently retired after over 40 years in farm animal practice; Jamie Crittall, director of Beech House Veterinary Centre; Lesley Johnson, head of the post-authorisation surveillance unit at the VMD; Matthew Dobbs, director of Westpoint Veterinary Group; Iain Booth, managing director of VetUK; and Alison Glennon, communications manager at NOAH.