WHY LOCAL MATTERS: Interview with the President of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association (IVPA).
January 20, 2022
Todd Nemet, President and Founder of CARE for Pets,™ conducts an exclusive interview (conducted by written questions) with Bonnie Bragdon, DVM, MS, Co-Founder and President of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association (IVPA).
The IVPA is the first nonprofit association dedicated to uniting and empowering independently owned and locally operated veterinarians in continuing to shape the business and practice of animal healthcare.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
Can you please introduce yourself?
- I am a veterinarian and I currently serve as the president of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association. I am inspired by the love people have for their animals and passionate about the relationship veterinarians form with their patients and clients. I have served in diverse roles, including practice owner, clinician, animal welfare leader, and technical support veterinarian. I worked with other veterinarians to form IVPA because I believe consumers should understand they have a choice in the type of veterinary care that suites their furry family member best.
What is your current role at the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association (IVPA)?
- I currently serve as the President of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association. I serve a membership of 500 amazing veterinarian members and an amazingly talented board of directors.
What is the mission and goals of the IVPA?
- The mission of IVPA is to ensure veterinarians and consumers continue to have choices. IVPA provides member benefits to help make veterinary practice ownership a viable clinical and financial option for veterinarians. IVPA strives to educate animal owners about the choices they have in care. Independently owned hospitals allow veterinarians and consumers to base medical decisions on the unique needs of their patients.
How has the practice of veterinary medicine changed in the last decade with respect to consolidation by corporate entities such as large hospital groups, and veterinary consolidators?
- An ever increasing number of veterinary hospitals are now owned and run by consolidators and corporate entities which have a commitment to deliver a return on investment to shareholders. Their main mission is to provide services in order to deliver profit to those who invest. This is in contrast to independently owned and locally operated practices who’s primary mission is to deliver value by caring for their patients and clients. Corporations and consolidators are funded by private equity and high net worth individuals who set goals for financial returns and base care on delivering a profit. There are no statistics to show how corporatization has changed medical practice. However, we do know a number of corporate owned emergency practices have chosen to reduce hours or even close practices due to labor shortages. Veterinarians and veterinary team members are experiencing burn out at increasing rates for many reasons. We don’t know if corporatization is contributing to burnout.
What is the importance, benefits, and value of independently owned & locally operated veterinary practices to pet owners and their companion animals, and to the local community?
- Independently owned and locally operated veterinary practices provide value to the communities they serve beyond delivering affordable, quality medical care. These practices serve diverse clients across various socioeconomic levels by developing close relationships with clients to create treatment protocols tailored to the pet’s needs and the client’s budget. These clinics contribute to the vibrancy and success of their local communities by serving as pillars of their communities, and providing employment and career opportunities. Small, locally owned businesses sustain their communities and contribute to the economic health.
CARE for Pets™ recently completed a first-of-its-kind ownership transparency study of corporate-owned veterinary practices (“non-branded”) operating in the state of Arizona. A “non-branded” practice maintains the original local brand that existed prior to the acquisition by a corporate entity. Our study found that the vast majority of individual veterinary practice websites failed to display corporate ownership information. In my opinion, this may give a false appearance to pet owners that the veterinary practice is independent, locally owned and operated.
How can pet owners determine whether a veterinary practice is in fact an “independent, locally owned and operated” business?
- Look for the IVPA logo! Our members are listed on our website and display our logo to signify they are veterinary owned and operated. Pet owners should ask who owns the practice. Interestingly enough, I have heard some technicians and veterinarians can be uncertain who actually owns the practice which employs them! National practices purposely avoid ownership identification because they feel it is advantageous – yes, I’ve heard corporate employees say they knowingly and purposefully leave off ownership information.
Why do many corporate-owned veterinary practices fail to reveal to pet owners in a transparent way, who ultimately owns and controls the animal hospital?
- National / corporate practices avoid informing consumers of their ownership because they understand consumers prefer to visit independently owned and locally operated practices, where the veterinarian delivering care can tailor medical protocols to meet the needs of the owner and pet.
What are common perceptions among pet owners about locally owned animal hospitals?
- Don’t think I have an answer to that question.
It was recently reported by the VIN News Service (12.30.21: Pandemic hastens ongoing trend in veterinary consolidation)* that in the last two years, there’s been a tremendous amount of M&A activity (mergers and acquisitions). According to John Volk, a senior consultant with Brakke Consulting, “about 25% of all companion animal practices in the U.S. are now owned by corporate consolidators” and “accounts for at least 40%, and perhaps closer to 50%, of all client visits,” because corporations tend to own larger practices including the majority of U.S. specialist referral centers.
What are the potential implications for competition and pet healthcare costs?
- I am personally very concerned that the cost of care will increase as more practices are owned by fewer entities for several reasons. National practices must generate enough revenue to pay their investors and support a large infrastructure of managers and support teams. They require greater revenue to be profitable. Second, many consolidators are funded by private equity which expects a high, fast returns. These consolidators will roll up or sell to larger corporations in order to deliver these high returns. I am very afraid veterinary medicine is going the way of pharmacies and there will eventually be just a handful of companies providing care with reduced competition. With reduced competition, quality suffers and price increases. Consider the costs, barriers, and difficulties in obtaining medical care from physicians and pharmacies for yourself. I choose to buy my personal prescriptions from a pharmacy which is owned by a pharmacist who is on site and manages her practice and business. I obtain dental care from a dentist owned practice. I haven’t been able to find a physician where I can find the same level of personal, quality, convenient care. Several years ago I needed critical care and specialized surgery for a pet of my own and had to seek care with a specialty hospital. I was quoted $8,000 to $10,000 for surgery. I received care by an independent practitioner for under $2,000. The outcome was perfect!
How can pet owners find an independently owned veterinary practice in their community?
- Check us out at www.iveterinarians.org to find a practice and above all else ask the veterinarian who is delivering care.
*Pandemic hastens ongoing trend in veterinary consolidation (12.30.21)