Exercise caution in dealing with big-box pharmacies

Jim Johnson   August 19, 2012   Comments Off on Exercise caution in dealing with big-box pharmacies

Veterinary PharmaceuticalsI want to talk briefly about what’s going on in the veterinary pharmacy business, and how it could affect your pet. This is a deep and controversial topic, but I want to skirt the arguable issues and focus on what it means to you and your pets.

First of all: as everyone knows by now, the veterinary pharmacy business has been changing radically over the last few years. Once the exclusive domain of veterinarians, this was first challenged by Pet-Meds; then Internet pharmacies. Now big chains such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco are getting into the veterinary pharmacy business. Veterinarians are not happy about this, but most of us recognize that the shift is inevitable.

The reasons veterinarians are not thrilled about this shift boil down to two fundamental reasons: one, it’s not good for business, and two, it may not be good for pets. I’m going to skip the “bad for business” argument, because to be honest, I don’t think it’s legitimate. Right now I want to share some important information I learned of today, and let you know about something you need to look out for if you use big-box pharmacies for your pet medicines.

I and a number of other local practice managers met with a representative of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association today, to discuss a number of issues that concern us, one of which is veterinary medicine sales through big-box stores. According to the OVMA rep, they have had a number of reports of pharmacists altering prescriptions sent from veterinarians, sometimes in direct contraction of the doctor’s orders. In a few cases, pets have died as a result of these changes. Examples include:

  •  Pharmacists recommending a less-expensive form of human insulin which is not suited for use in pets.
  •  Pharmacists reducing dosages on medications such as thyrozine and phenobarbital.
  •  Pharmacists altering and repackaging drugs obtained from gray-market channels.

The problem is that human pharmacists are not trained in veterinary pharmacy. They are, however, required by law to counsel patients, so they often do even when, frankly, they don’t know what they are talking about. Combine that with pressure from the corporate employer to increase sales in the veterinary market, and you can see why mistakes are made.

We do not want to stand in the way of any clients who prefer to get their pets’ medicines from other sources. We are currently streamlining our procedures for this to make it easier on us and less trouble for clients. However, we do have to warn everyone that vigilance is necessary. When you receive your prescription, please check it against the doctor’s notes to make sure you are getting the correct medicine and dosage. If the pharmacist makes any changes or substitutions, please call us before giving the medication.

For more on this topic, visit http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=22939