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Veterinary Forum November 2008 (Vol 25, No 11)

Business Skills — Creating an online pharmacy for your practice

by Stephen Cory Fisher, DVM, Thomas West, MS, RPH

    Over the past few years, veterinarians have watched clients change the way they obtain both prescription and nonprescription drugs for their pets. More frequently, clients are demanding convenient alternatives to purchasing from their veterinarian, including the increase in requests for obtaining prescriptions from local drug store chains and such Internet sources as online catalogs and pharmacies. In this shifting environment, what can veterinarians do to protect an important revenue source while meeting client requests for additional prescription resources? How can manufacturers of veterinary prescription drugs work with veterinarians as well?

    As is the case in human medicine, modern pharmacotherapy is experiencing an expanding role in veterinary practice. This evolution has not been paralleled by increased cooperation between veterinarians and Internet pharmacies, which has been the case in human medicine. In fact, most veterinarians view pharmacies with indifference or as real competitors. Pharmacy shares the responsibility for this situation through its failure to explore better ways to work with veterinarians. Veterinary medicine benefits economically by retaining control over the dispensing of drugs. Unfortunately, the inevitable emergence of competition for prescription revenue under consumer price pressure continues to distract both veterinarians and pharmacies from benefiting by working together.

    Examples of both cooperation and competition between veterinarians and a home delivery pharmacy do exist. Mail order pharmacies have been successful by offering convenient home delivery service that veterinarians cannot match because of business and licensing requirements.

    Creating an online pharmacy

    How can veterinarians realize the benefits of a home delivery pharmacy without losing control over the dispensing of drugs as well as losing the revenue?

    The answer: They create their own online pharmacy to satisfy the needs of their clients, thereby promoting a win"win situation. Such an online pharmacy would be available through the veterinarian only and would be considered as part of the practice. Several companies are now offering this service to veterinarians. These organizations have been able to address the issues of business and licensing requirements, allowing veterinary practices in the United States to become competitive with Internet pharmacies.

    Prescriptions must be written by the veterinarian to make this home delivery happen. Clients will always be given the choice of picking up the medication from the hospital or having it delivered to their home. The veterinary practice should dispense the initial prescription, as the patient is often in need of the medication immediately. Then the client can conveniently order refills from the practice's online store. If the client wants, prescriptions can be delivered directly to the client's home.

    The companies offering this service to veterinarians also send reminders to the client when the pet is due for a recheck or additional laboratory work as well as other testing to monitor the treatment protocol. This approach delivers a great opportunity. The pet receives the medications it needs, the veterinarian benefits from improved recheck and testing opportunities and the client benefits from the convenience of medication refills and sound medical practices for their pet.

    Manufacturers of veterinary drugs will start to participate in this process as veterinarians begin to create their online stores. On the business side of the equation, increased compliance with the veterinarian's diagnostic, treatment and follow-up plan for the patient will result in increased sales of products, thereby benefiting the manufacturer. This is a win"win situation for the veterinarian, the patient, the client and the manufacturer, who all benefit from increased product compliance and product use.

    On a long-term basis, veterinarians will benefit by replacing a competitive model with a cooperative model in which compliance drives increases in professional and laboratory service fees while offering clients the convenience and savings associated with home delivery.

    The new model depends on the practice having a website that is consumer-friendly so that with the practitioner's approval, the client can access the pharmacy offerings on the website. The client can then order refills from the practice, the veterinarian either has a prescription on file or approves it and the order goes to the practice's home delivery partner. The practitioner can, therefore, ensure the quality of the medications and maintain control over delivery to clients.1

    1. Brock KA, Doucette WR. Collaborative working relationships between pharmacists and physicians: an exploratory study. J Am Pharm Assoc 2004;44(3):358-365.

    References »

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