The number of practices with an in-house online pharmacy has been increasing over the last ten years, but the pandemic has put a spotlight on the usage of this tool to serve clients better. Since COVID-19 hit the U.S. badly and pet owners started hunkering down at home in March, many clients have not wanted to leave their houses to run basic errands, and the interest in getting their pet’s food and medications delivered has increased. Obviously, it is better for practices if clients use the practice’s online pharmacy rather than an outside option. VHMA’s June Insiders' Insight survey asked managers how their practices have integrated online pharmacies into their hospitals.
The vast majority of practices responding have an online pharmacy, 87%. Almost all of the practices with a pharmacy had it in place before the pandemic struck. Forty-one percent have offered an online pharmacy for over five years.
About 58% of the practice have integrated their online pharmacy with Practice Information Management System (PIMS) to some extent.
Eighty-six percent of the respondents use one of two third-party vendors: 49% are using VetsFirstChoice, and 37% are using Vetsource.
Over 85% of the respondents indicated that they offer the following products:
- Heartworm preventive
- Flea/Tick preventive
- Prescription food
- Prescription medications
- Shampoos, conditioners, other similar skincare items (non-prescription)
- Non-prescription vitamins and supplements
Pharmacy items less offered include non-prescription food, medical supplies, and retail (pet supplies, i.e., leashes, beds, toys, etc.).
Managers indicate they market their online pharmacy through client visits, email, social media and client reminders, and mailers.
When asked about their satisfaction, 54% of responding managers said they are somewhat satisfied. Only 24% stated they are very satisfied.
The great majority of practices, 75%, set their prices based on what the pharmacy technology provider suggests. Forty-seven percent of practices charge more for the same products sold in their practice.
When asked about pre and post COVID-19 monthly usage and revenue, managers indicate an increase in both.
When asked, “What do you love most about your online pharmacy technology?” The most common comments were:
- Practice can offer online options for clients that want them
- Availability of home shipping
- Integration with the PIMS
- Ability to offer products to clients that don’t have to be stocked in the practice
- Ease of usage
- Compounding option
- Auto-ship and/or client reminders
- Vendor marketing efforts
When asked: “What are your biggest frustrations with your online pharmacy technology?” The most common comments were:
- Sites/portals not user friendly from either pet owner or practice side
- Doesn’t integrate well with PIMS
- Time it takes practice team to keep up with pricing issues
- Shipping time
- Very low profit margins/high fees charged by vendors
- Vendors either don’t provide much marketing support or contact pet owners too frequently
- Poor client service from vendors/difficult to communicate with/vendors not very responsive
- Reports provided by vendors not very comprehensive or useful
- Time it takes for the practice team to encourage clients to use the practice online pharmacy
- Not able to price competitively with Chewy
For more details, view the full VHMA Insiders’ Insight June 2020 Report.