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Veterinary Forum September 2008 (Vol 25, No 9)

Editor's Note — Recession-proof? Maybe, maybe not

by Marie Rosenthal

    More than 20 years ago, I took my first job as a medical editor after I was advised, "Medical publishing is recession-proof because medicine is." That statement proved false once the higher costs of insurance, medical care and drugs led people to make tough decisions about life expenses vs. medical care.

    Now I work for Veterinary Forum, and I'm hearing some of the same sentiments: The human-animal bond is so strong, veterinary medicine is recession-proof. That may be wishful thinking.

    Anyone who follows news has seen stories about pets that were abandoned because people lost their homes after foreclosure. We might not want to give up our pets, but if our circumstances change, we may be forced to. Some states, such as California, are looking at legislative solutions to prevent animal abandonment, but no one has found a way to help allow people to keep their pets.

    Another tough issue facing you and your clients continues to be the higher prices we are paying for many items, such as gasoline. As prices soar, people must decide how to cut up their financial pie, and the smaller the piece becomes, the less that may go toward their pets.

    Now, of course, this won't be true for everyone. Some people will still spend a lot on their animals no matter what, and others would never abandon them even if they lose their homes.

    But as money becomes tighter, everyone will weigh the quality of the service and care the animal receives versus the cost. It's human nature — people want to gain the most for their dollars.

    It might be easy to sit back and say, "I can't do anything about this," but I think that may be wrong. Of course, providing the best medicine is a given, but you might think about how you present those services.

    Do your clients have to wait a long time watching their pets become more and more stressed out? Is your staff overworked and surly? Does anyone take the time to "pet" a pet or tell the owner how adorable the pet is?

    Little things could make the difference, even for clients who can still afford to pay for all the same services they have used in the past.

    Wendy S. Myers writes an interesting column this month about a realistic approach to scheduling your time (see this month's Business Skills) and planning for the unexpected. In the column, she mentions that clients typically wait almost 19 minutes for appointments and about 10 minutes to check out — 29 minutes of waiting for a 15-minute appointment. More than anything, a long waiting time shows clients that you don't value their time — yet, you expect them to value yours.

    How many times have you sat in your own doctor's office, fuming over all the things you could be doing? Why would clients feel differently sitting in your waiting room? America is an impatient nation, and anything you can do to shorten that wait or to make it less stressful is appreciated.

    A positive experience at your clinic starts in the waiting room.

    NEXT: FORUM FIVE — Stemming the pain
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