Partnership to enhance preventive health

While nearly 8 out of 10 veterinary professionals perceive a decline in industry-wide pet owner visits, only about half of those professionals say they perceive the problem as one affecting their practice.

This new data, released during the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. Jan. 15, 2012, reflects a trend that has been going on for over 10 years.

The data is a result of research from a 2011 online survey of veterinary professionals, conducted by the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare.

According to the survey, dog visits are down 21 percent, while cat visits have decreased 30 percent.

The new research is designed to reveal a path to improvement and future growth, according to Jeremy Kees, Ph.D. of the Villanova University marketing department.

Presenting his research at a press conference, Kees identified challenges faced by veterinarians and opportunities for improvement.

"Although the landscape of the veterinary profession has changed, and not necessarily for the better, there is still hope," Kees said. "With this new research, we are helping the practitioner bridge the gap of understanding around preventative pet healthcare."

According to the research, veterinary professionals recognize the decline in visits, and recognize it as a problem. From the perspective of an individual respondent, however, they did not view it as a problem for their practice. Despite this, 92 percent of veterinarians surveyed believe that preventive pet healthcare is important to sustain future growth.

"A key objective of [the Partnership] is to help practices develop tools to support their practice marketing endeavors," Kees said.

Part of increasing practice marketing means improving communication between veterinarian and pet owner as to the importance of pet healthcare, Kees said.

"If they don’t understand what it means, they won’t understand the value," he said.

Kees found that veterinarians have trouble conveying what preventive pet healthcare means, and why it is important. In a difficult economy, it becomes even more difficult for clients to spend money on something they don’t view as absolutely necessary.

Kees found that the relationship between the pet owner and the veterinarian is based on transactions, such as vaccines, heartworm prevention and acute care, rather than on communication, relationship building and a lifetime health plan.

"I think right now a huge issue is people don’t know there is a disconnect," Kees said.

To address declining pet visits, Kees discussed what he calls the "Opportunity". The Partnership already carried out phase one with 23 practices in November and December 2011, and plans to launch the pilot program with 100 more practices at the yearly conference for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in March 2012.

The program presents similar staff and pet owner surveys designed to facilitate an understanding of what preventive pet healthcare means. The survey results show areas that the practice can work to address; practices receive a customized action plan, which is designed to help them increase the preventive care received in their offices.

The program is designed to be fully rolled out later this year into early next year.

For more on the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare, visit its website.