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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shot Clinics: Good Or Bad?

I stirred the pot a bit yesterday with my discussion on the poor business model veterinarians have related to prescription medications.  Today let me stoke the fire a bit and see if I can really get it boiling.

I believe that another bad business decision is related to vaccines.  When I was growing up working for a vet, the standard practice was that there was no office visit charged when a pet received vaccines.  So the clients came in and paid for the immunizations but not the exam.  Most vets charged this way back then and many still do.  While it seems to be an incentive for owners to come in for vaccines, it also places the emphasis on the wrong aspect of the visit.  The clients think they just need the shots.  In reality we need to do the exam and will happen to give the shots if everything looks good.  The most important part of the visit is a thorough exam by the vet.  Unfortunately, we now have 1-2 generations of pet owners who are used to this older model and are put off by vets who actually charge for exams.  Once again, poor business models by vets are hurting the profession as a whole and are making it difficult to change client perceptions.

Which brings me to "shot clinics".  These happen all over the country, sometimes in store parking lots, sometimes inside pet stores, or sometimes through mobile facilities.  Clients bring their pets for vaccines, minimal to no exam is performed, and the clinic charges minimal price for the injections.  This is another poor business model that harms the profession.

So why do I feel this way?  It goes back to my earlier comments about emphasizing the wrong thing.  The vets and technicians in these clinics often will not do a thorough exam, simply giving the shots and moving on.  Many things can be missed this way, such as periodontal disease, heart murmurs, tumors, and many other problems that the owner may not have noticed.  These clients likely won't go to a vet for a separate annual exam, which means that disorders can go missed for years, sometimes becoming very advanced where it may be more difficult to treat.  Once again the emphasis is on the vaccine, not on the exam, which is the wrong message to send to people.

"But what about poor people?  What about those who can't afford a regular vet?  Don't their pets need shots also?"  I'm going to be a bit harsh for a moment, but this is nothing I haven't said many times in the past.  If you cannot afford basic, proper care for a pet, you shouldn't have a pet at all.  If someone doesn't have the money for regular vet visits and preventative care, then they should get a hamster or guinea pig, not a dog or cat.  Pet ownership is not a right.  And doing annual vaccines alone is NOT sufficient for proper health care!  I simply can't emphasize that point enough.  Full physical exams are a necessity and can prevent more serious problems later on.

However, I do recognize that people fall on hard times.  I feel that shelters and discount vaccine clinics should have a means testing procedure.  Someone making $20,000 a year certainly would benefit from these clinics (though I'd argue they shouldn't have a pet at all).  Someone making $100,000 annually should be excluded from shot clinics.  There needs to be a way for people to prove income to justify getting discounted services. 

But all of this takes a change in the mindset of both veterinarians and consumers.  We have a lot of bad business practices to overcome.  It took a couple of generations to develop these bad habits, and it will take at least as many to break them.  Once we do so the profession will be in a better situation and the pets will be healthier.