Many full service veterinary practices view high volume, low cost vaccine clinics with disdain. These places, depending on laws in their respective states, often administer dogs and cats with all manner of vaccines without a licensed veterinarian so much as glancing at the patient. They even dispense prescription level preventative medications like heartworm preventives and new generation prescription oral flea/tick preventives. These clinics operate in this manner in states like my home state of Florida because of prescription law loop holes that allow for a legal doctor-patient relationship to be established provided that a state licensed veterinarian merely be in the building at the time of the pet’s visit medication to be prescribed and even the ever important rabies immunization to be administered.
Where does the disdain for these types of establishments and their veterinarians come from? To begin with, although it may be legal, most of us view this type of practice to being unethical at best, dangerous at worst. They make no attempt to follow the most current vaccine protocols and usually do not gauge risk assessment for individual patients since a main driver of their income is vaccine revenue. The result is commonly unnecessary and over-vaccination, some pets receiving vaccines that should not (due to chronic disease that otherwise may have been detected had a proper examination been done prior to immunization administration), and of course, many pets not having a veterinarian actually examine them sometimes for years.
However, while these are important points and justifiable critiques of this paradigm of veterinary medicine, the full service general practitioner’s dislike of high volume discount vaccine clinics most vehemently stems from the fact that they have successfully managed out-market them in devaluing the traditional well visit, complete with a comprehensive, hands on examination by a veterinarian and the establishment and maintenance of a vibrant doctor-patient-client relationship. High volume clinics have convinced a significant number of the pet owning public the a yearly visit is nothing more than “just shots,” and the rest of us are just ripping them off for including parasite screening, heartworm screening, and a comprehensive physical examination as necessary components to the yearly well visit.
There was a time many years ago when I was one of those general practitioners and owner of a full service veterinary practice that was filled of ire for high volume vaccine clinics. I not only judged the veterinarians that chose to work for them, I also judged the people that would choose such poor care for their pets. It was not until I joined Veterinary Study Groups (VSG), a co-op of hundreds of veterinary practice owners that combine our collective resources and knowledge to facilitate best practices in the industry to grow our practices while facilitating optimal client and patient care; that I realized that the high volume clinics and their veterinarians were not the problem…I was!
The truth was that veterinary medicine had a very cushy, seamless run from the mid-seventies through the early 2000’s. The industry had resisted volume based discount competition and big corporate influence much more successfully than other industries had. Even early in my career for a few years after I had graduated in 2002, all a veterinarian had to possess to be successful was the ability to provide good medicine and present a good bedside manner.
Three factors really changed this Utopian veterinary reality:
1.) Shrewd people that were more business and less veterinary focused cleverly saw the high volume, low cost opportunity in an industry too comfortable to realize the massive change their inception would bring.
2.) The Great Recession of 2008 leaving a nation of pet owners reeling to cut costs wherever they could.
3.) Full service veterinary practices naively (or perhaps arrogantly) assuming that pet owners would quickly be turned off by the impersonal, assembly line like paradigm of high volume, low cost vaccine clinics as they began to appear.
It took VSG to make me (and many other members) realize that we as an industry failed to communicate the value of yearly veterinary well care for dogs and cats. While we believed in its value personally, over time we did a poor job communicating its value to our clients. We ran the stool and blood parasite screening and only called clients if they were positive with a “no news is good news” policy. We went through our physical examinations without providing the client continuous diagnostic feedback to establish the “why” of what we were doing. In hindsight, it should have been no surprise that a significant percentage of pet owners lost the appreciation for the value of the comprehensive well visit and saw it as little more than their pets shots and subsequently had no qualms about getting them done some place cheaper.
Fast forward nearly 6 years since joining VSG, and the percentage of well visits my practice sees rivals that of the good old days before high volume clinics sprang up. From the technicians to the doctors, we offer clients physical examination diagnostic feedback, we call even when parasite screening tests are negative, report all quantitative vital sign information in real time. In the process, we enhance the lives of our patients and the families that love them by catching disease in its early stages, engage in nutritional counselling, and catch parasites before they make the pet devastatingly ill or put the human family at risk of human contagion.
There are still 3 high volume, low cost vaccine clinics within 5 miles of my practice and I do not care. I do not give them a second thought because I have the confidence of knowing that once my veterinary medical team has the opportunity to get clients and their pets through our door, they will leave appreciating the value of comprehensive routine well care and be more than happy to return in the future….and tell their friends.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality throughout a number of subjects and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.