On-line pharmacies: time to grasp nettle - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

On-line pharmacies: time to grasp nettle

PERISCOPE continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

THE spectre of on-line veterinary
pharmacies has raised its head
again and there is much huffing
and puffing and self-righteous
indignation being thrown its way.

Is such a reaction justified? Well,
hands up anyone in the room who has
never ordered anything off the
internet? Ah, just one I see; you Sir at
the back … yes, you
with the mutton
chops sideburns and
the monocle.
Congratulations. I
believe that you are
the only person here
justified in
complaining about the current trend in
clients purchasing veterinary drugs
from on-line pharmacies. As for the
rest of you, quit moaning and man up.
We are living in a different world and
we had all better get used to it.

In the last year I have bought
everything off the internet from
books, printer cartridges, clothes, food,
a strimmer, hotel accommodation and
flights. Why? Because I can do it from
the comfort of my own home and it is
invariably cheaper.

The downside? Well sometimes the
clothes don’t fit and have to be sent
back and sometimes the goods arrive
later than promised. But generally I am
prepared to live with such problems
because of the money I can invariably
save. So why should veterinary drugs
be any different, particularly those that
are non-prescription drugs such as
wormers and anti-flea products?

Because of the added value that we
as vets can give, I hear you say. I will
let you into a secret. I frequently
browse a bookshop like Waterstones
to get the added value and then go and
order the book from Amazon. I will visit the local garden centre for the
added value of its advice on this or
that strimmer and then I will search
the internet to see just how many
pounds (sometimes scores) I can shave
off the best price I have been offered
to date.

I feel a slight pang of guilt but that
guilt is growing less and less as each month passes,
particularly in this
current economic
climate. Money is
money and besides
there is lots of “free”
added value available out there that is no more
than the click of a mouse away.

Take veterinary practice websites.
Nearly all of them have a section on
worming and flea control and they all
say pretty much the same thing, so
why would any reasonably intelligent
person feel the need to buy their
worming tablets from their vet at three
or four times the price of that from an
on-line pharmacy? There just isn’t
enough “added value” to be gained to
justify it.

But what about all our overheads, I
hear you whinge. On-line pharmacies
don’t have the overheads that we have,
it’s just not fair; it’s like comparing
apples with pears.

Well I’m sorry, but if I want to buy
an apple then I want to pay the price
for apples and not the price for pears.
I want value for my hard-earned
money and I don’t want the money
from the worming tablets I buy to go
towards subsidising a 24-hour service
that I might never need. Get it?

What’s the answer?

So what’s the answer? Strip out all the
unnecessary overheads, of course.

Overheads like expensive
bits of kit that are rarely
used but which the practice
just has to have to provide
the sort of service that the
clients demand. Well I’m
sorry to disappoint but in my
view clients will just have to
get used to travelling further afield
to more specialised practices if they
want to avail themselves of the
facilities that they believe their pet
deserves. And stop expecting their
own local practice to provide a one-
stop shop from the cradle to the grave.

After all, you don’t expect your
local GP to take out your appendix in
between his morning and evening
consulting do you? Or for him or her
to perform an MRI scan to find out
just why you might be having those
intermittent headaches and blackouts?
Of course you don’t because you
realise that no man or
woman can be a
specialist in everything
and the overheads
involved in keeping an
MRI scanner for
occasional use would be
prohibitive. So why don’t
we vets work to the same
principle?

In my view there is
no point in trying to
drive away the on-line
veterinary pharmacies by using
scaremongering tactics or calling
“foul”. They are here to stay and more
and more people are going to make
use of them for routine purchases –
and who can blame them?

The only way to tackle them is to
cut our practice overheads so that drug
sales are not seen as a means of
subsidising other parts of our business. In that way our drug pricing
policy can stand on its own and be
more akin to that used by our on-line
competitors.

If there is little money to be saved
by shopping on-line, then there is no
incentive to do it and clients will be
more than happy to buy the drugs
from their veterinary practice because
that has a convenience all of its own.

As a case in point, remember the
trend 10 years or so ago for buying cars in other European
countries and then re-
registering them in the
UK? Thousands of
pounds could be saved
over buying from a UK
dealership and one
wondered how UK
dealers could possibly
survive.

The outcome was
that suddenly thousands
of pounds were shaved off the price of new cars here at home
and lo and behold everyone went back
to buying cars from their local dealer
down the road, at the new and
considerably lower price.

Don’t imagine the same couldn’t
happen with veterinary drug purchases
if we only grasped the nettle and acted
instead of wringing our hands and
whingeing!

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