Bayer study reveals gaps in perception of veterinary care between veterinarians and pet owners

Bayer study highlights areas for improving patient visits

In the first quarter of 2011, did you fill more than 62% of your available client appointments each week?

If so, you have an above-average practice, according to Phase 2 of the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study. That statistic and others were presented by representatives from Bayer Animal Health, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI) and Brakke Consulting, the organizations that conducted the study.

The study, presented at the AVMA convention in St. Louis, was the second part of the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study. The study will also be presented at the GVMA 2011 Fall Convention in Marietta at the opening session on November 4.

The first phase looked at the reasons behind the decrease in patient visits from the pet owner’s point of view. Six factors were identified: the economy, fragmentation of veterinary services, increased use of the Internet, feline resistance, the perception that regular medical checkups are unnecessary, and cost.

The second phase of the study was designed to identify any correlation between clinic revenue and pet visits, to identify the use of successful practice tools, and to establish the degree to which veterinarians are utilizing services identified in phase one of the study.

Among the sobering data points were the fact that 51 percent of practices surveyed saw a decrease in patient visits over the last two years, and 42 percent saw a decrease in revenue. Still, 34 percent of respondents saw an increase in visits (which correlated with an increase in revenue nearly 90 percent of the time). These practices shared some common attributes. Factors that were associated with an increase in patient visits were:

· Having clients see the same veterinarian every visit

· Including marketing and advertising as a key part of the practice’s business strategy

· Viewing wellness exams as one of the practice’s most valuable services

· Actively using social media sites

Practices that saw decreased visits had a few traits in common as well. These practices said they saw advertising as undermining their credibility as a veterinarian, and they did not have any mutual referral arrangements with any other pet service providers such as groomers or boarders.

What to do?

NCVEI CEO Karen Felsted, DVM, CVPM, CPA, talked about how practices can use the data to address the findings in the study. Using data from Phase 1, Felsted identified a few areas where opportunities to improve presented themselves. Dr. Felsted will be presenting on

While 45 percent of pet owners said they would be more likely to take their pets to the veterinarian if the practice offered a wellness program billed monthly, only 5 percent of veterinarians were offering that service. Also, nearly 40 percent of pet owners said if they had a full-year health program spelled out clearly for them, that would also be a factor in bringing their pet in more often. But only 22 percent of veterinarians said they do that.

Another telling result from the survey was the fact that 82 percent of veterinarians said they would consider changing how the practice operates if they knew it would increase client satisfaction. However, only 20 percent said they conduct after-service client surveys.

"We’re saying ‘I would do almost anything to make my clients more satisfied,’ but we’re not reaching out to find out what clients want," Felsted said. "There is a disconnect between what veterinarians are thinking and what they’re doing."

Moving forward

Felsted pointed out some ways to attract new clients and keep existing ones coming back:

Get on board with marketing and advertising. Most practices have a website, but websites are largely static. Less than half of practices surveyed were on Facebook, although 74 percent were still advertising in the yellow pages.

Improve communication with clients. The Bayer study showed that clients are not getting the message. Communicate the need for care, and send out client satisfaction surveys to get a feel for what they want.

Cats. Identify all the cats owned by your clients by asking about them at the dog’s visit. Teaching your clients about cat-friendly transport, and educating yourself and your staff on cat-friendly handling and examinations can really make a difference.

Make it easy to schedule and keep appointments. Only 4 percent of practices said they always schedule the pet’s next appointment at the end of the current visit. Ninety percent of practices are still using post card reminders, while only 44 percent are using email.

Payment options. Most practices only accept cash, checks or cards, but there was a 69 percent net increase in client requests for alternative methods of payment in the last year. Being more flexible with payment options such as held or post-dated checks, or using third party financing such as Care Credit or Chase Health Advance could help clients stick with you. Annual wellness care plans paid on a monthly basis is another option.

To view some of the study results as a slide deck, go to the Brakke Consulting website here.


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