How can veterinary practices evolve and improve?

‘PetGen’ are now the primary pet-owning demographic, making up 35 percent of U.S. pet owners

Disruption is here. It’s inevitable, uncomfortable, and exciting. As a profession, we are in the ideal position to create our own disruption. While our profession isn’t broken, it’s in serious need of change. Today’s contemporary practice looks a lot like a practice from the 70s. How can veterinary practices evolve and improve?

PetGen

For decades, baby boomers have been a dominant force in our profession both as consumers and colleagues. No longer.

Millennials –hereafter referred to as PetGen (you’ll see why) –are now the primary pet-owning demographic. 35 percent of U.S. pet owners are members of PetGen compared to baby boomers at 32 percent (APPA). This generation grew up with internet and smartphones, and they currently make up the majority of our work family.

I’ve set out to examine PetGen from two perspectives here: technological trends and their relationships with their pets. I unearthed recent survey data that highlights how our current PetGen consumers and colleagues are highly centered on both.

  • PetGen checks their smartphones 43 times per day
  • PetGen has more pictures of their pets on their smartphone than their two-legged family
  • 65 percent would rather lose their car than their smartphone or computer
  • 90 percent are on social media
  • 69 percent are open to using new technology compared to 33 percent of boomers
  • 2.6 million will become pet owners between now and 2020
  • 82 percent feel that getting a pet is part of preparing to have a family
  • 60 percent own clothing for their pet
  • 86 percent are more likely to splurge on their pet than themselves
  • 41 percent say money is no barrier to pet care

Pet numbers are up, pet life spans are up, pet spending is up, euthanasia is down. And more good news: PetGen spends more on veterinary care and pet services than any other generation. So the ever-pressing question is how can our profession best adapt to meet their needs?

First let’s step back. Those of us who track professional trends were wringing our hands with fear just a few years ago. The demise of boomers and emergence of PetGen was expected to put a big hurt in the growth of our profession. Recall the formula that has driven the pet profession for preceding generations: go to school, get married, buy a house, have kids, get a pet. PetGen, on the other hand, is not getting married, not buying houses, not having kids and has significantly less discretionary income. We feared that even if this generation were to be pet owners, they wouldn’t be spending nearly as much.

Much to our surprise, Pet Gen has launched a completely new boom in our profession; they’ve created their own path. Frequently, a pet is the first thing they get when they leave their childhood home. PetGen gets their first pet at age 21, boomers got theirs at 29 and the bond they share is remarkable. As they leave their parents’ homes, they are getting a “fur baby,” for whom they provide the very best in food, holiday gifts, veterinary care and beyond. It’s becoming increasingly evident that veterinarians are no longer competing for PetGen discretionary dollars; they will find a way to provide care for their four-legged family members. It is not discretionary. The “fur baby” economy is here.

Let’s dive a little deeper. The two major categories of PetGen our industry must consider are clients and our colleagues. This demographic represents new graduate veterinarians and comprise the bulk of the teams we work with as well as make up the majority of our team members at WellHaven.

The PetGen Client

They are true digital natives as evident by the statistics above. Our industry should be keeping up, but our technological prowess surely leaves something to be desired. But first a caveat: I write this column with a smirk on my face knowing that my kids are going to mercilessly mock me should they ever read it. I am a boomer; a digital dummy. So, there is a steep road ahead for myself and my boomer colleagues to truly adapt to and implement technology into our practices.

It’s on us to disrupt the current client experience and embrace the tech-native PetGen. Our current model is bound by finite hours, trapped by brick and mortar and is burning out too many of our colleagues. This new technology-enabled model will not replace vets and teams, but augment and support them to provide a collaborative, information-rich, and personalized relationship-centered practice; a fully digitized veterinary experience.

Let’s zoom in. Pre-appointment or intake currently goes something like this: Ms. Smith, a member of PetGen (who do not like to make phone calls and would much rather text or make an appointment online) calls to make an appointment with Dr. Lester because Fluffy is itchy. My receptionist happily answers the phone and questions Ms. Smith about her pet, pet’s name, presenting complaint and schedules her first thing the following day. When she arrives, Ms. Smith is warmly greeted by my receptionist who once again learns that this is Ms. Smith, her pet’s name is Fluffy and that Fluffy is itchy. Eventually, Ms. Smith and Fluffy are shown into an exam room where my veterinary nurse once again greets Ms. Smith, learns her pet’s name is Fluffy and that Fluffy is itchy. Next, Dr. Lester enters the exam room and … you get it, once again Smith, Fluffy, itchy …

There’s got to be a better way. If Ms. Smith and Fluffy were to receive a text message the night before her appointment, she would willingly respond. The text reminds is at once personable and informational. It then walks Ms. Smith through an algorithm that gathers a complete personalized history and perhaps offers the option to download a picture of Fluffy. When Ms. Smith arrives the next morning she goes directly to the exam room where a good portion of the medical record is already completed. Consequently, time in hospital is reduced dramatically, compliance increases, average transactions go up, and most importantly, Fluffy receives better care.

Fortunately, this technology exists today as created and continually refined by FuturePet Where else can we employ technology to support and augment the veterinary team? We’re limited only by our imagination and our willingness to change.

The PetGen Colleague

A recent Merck Wellness survey discloses that a devastatingly few 24 percent of our PetGen doctor colleagues endorse our profession. They too have come to expect the personalization, efficiencies and communication abilities of technology. We can better support our veterinary teams by embracing these technologies that allow a more digital and personalized relationship with the consumer while guarding our free time. Tech can help us set the boundaries necessary to provide better balance.

Embracing a digitized client/veterinary team relationship can better support us thanks to advancements like 24/7 outsourced triage services, communication by text and the like. This way, we help more pets in less time and enjoy better compliance. In short, our teams to work smarter, not harder.

Anecdotally, as a proud father of two remarkable young women –one a member of PetGen, the other a Gen Z –I predict the upcoming Gen Z will be equally or perhaps even more apt to care for their pets’ wellness and happiness than their Millennial counterpoints. When we adapt to best communicate with PetGen and Z, our profession will continue to thrive.

PetGen is the new Sheriff in town. A digitally-native Sheriff that will insist on communicating differently, disrupting client flows, setting boundaries, and educating clients in a dramatically different and better way.

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