Fairness To Pet Owners Act – How To Prepare Your Veterinary Business

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Fairness to Pet Owners Act

There’s no doubt the veterinary landscape is changing and the last few months have seen veterinary practices face some major challenges. For instance…

  • You’ve seen an increase in the number of practicing veterinarians at a time when the number of pets has declined.
  • You’ve seen big stores and wholesale clubs trying to claim your tick, flea and even heartworm business.
  • You’ve seen a worrying trend of pet vaccines now being offered to pet owners at pet stores, street corner pharmacies and even gas stations!
  • You’ve even had your integrity called into question on ABC’s 20/20 in one of the most one sided pieces of TV journalism ever screened.

Well if you thought things couldn’t get any harder for veterinary practice owners then think again because those lovely politicians in Washington D.C. are trying to give veterinarians another kick in the teeth!

That’s right, ‘The Fairness To Pet Owners Act’ (or HR 4023 as it will be known) has been introduced into the U.S. House with bipartisan support.

HR 4023 would require veterinarians to provide clients with written prescriptions for domesticated household animals regardless of whether or not such a prescription is requested by the client. Further, veterinarians would be prohibited from charging a prescription-writing fee or asking clients to sign a liability waiver related to writing the prescription.

What ‘The Fairness To Pet Owners Act’ Means To Your Practice

So how does this affect your veterinary practice? Well, consider the following scenario…

Mrs. Smith brings Fluffy in for her annual exam, at which time Fluffy is given a heartworm test. Fortunately, the test comes back indicating Fluffy does not have heartworm. If this scenario played out in your veterinary practice then at this point you would offer Mrs Smith a heartworm preventative for Fluffy. However, if HR 4023 becomes law then at this point you would be required to write Mrs. Smith a prescription for heartworm preventative regardless of whether she was going to buy your heartworm preventative or not.

Apart from the extra administrative burden this creates, what this effectively does is encourage your clients to go elsewhere for their prescriptions. It also gives clients, who are on the fence about being compliant with your heartworm recommendation, an excuse to not to comply because they can take the prescription on the premise that they will get it filled when they leave.

How To Prepare For ‘The Fairness To Pet Owners Act’

Now there’s a good chance that ‘The Fairness To Pet Owners Act’ won’t actually come into law. In fact, the last time ‘The Fairness To Pet Owners Act’ was introduced into congress in 2012 (then HR 1406) it never made it out of committee. However, there’s no telling what might happen this time round.

So what can you do to prepare if it does come into law?

Well the first thing is to turn giving a prescription into an advantage for your practice. So you and your team need to talk up the benefits of getting their pets prescription from you rather than elsewhere.

That means talking about the convenience of getting their prescription filled while they’re in your practice rather searching for it elsewhere. It means talking about the reasons why you trust the brand you use and the risks of going elsewhere. It means giving them the reasons as to why they shouldn’t wait to get the prescription filled now rather than tomorrow or days from now.

It also means changing your current thinking to provide your clients with options that online pharmacies and big box stores can’t offer.

For example, let’s go back to the example above of Mrs Smith and Fluffy. Typically, the only heartworm preventative options Mrs Smith has available to her are to buy a six month or twelve month supply. Let’s say to make the numbers easy, for Fluffy’s weight, a twelve month supply of your recommended heartworm preventative is $120. That’s not a an inconsiderable sum, especially when added to the other costs of Fluffy’s wellness exam, and Mrs Smith may have to think twice about spending it.

But what if you offered her the chance to purchase Fluffy’s heartworm preventative on a month to month basis?

What if you offered to mail it out each month?

And what if you offered to do this for just $14 or $15 per month?

Now you are offering Mrs Smith something she can’t get elsewhere. You are offering her a more attractive way to pay, as pulling out $15 today is not as painful as pulling out $120. Of course, you will actually make more money e.g. $180 for a twelve pack rather than $120. There will be additional mailing and admin costs but they are covered in the additional cost.

Another benefit is that compliance is likely to go up because once per month Mrs Smith will receive a tablet in the mail which she just has to put in Fluffy’s bowl.

In the case of heartworm preventatives there is also another way to offer something the online pharmacies and big box stores can’t. That is to offer it free as part of a Wellness Plan that also incorporates wellness exams etc.

Prepare Now And You Won’t Have To Worry

So the big takeaway here is not to worry too much about the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. Instead start thinking of ways you can differentiate service. And if you start being different now, not only will the Act (if passed) have a little effect on your business but you will actually start to reap the benefits now!

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