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I went to scout out a new vet today. While surveying the waiting room, I picked up a pamphlet entitled “Pet Internet Pharmacies — what you need to know…” It was brief and informative. All the text is basically the same as this brochure available online through another vet (with which I have no affiliation). From this brochure, I learned of the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS) approval system, which authorizes “reputable” online pharmacies. Glad to know such an entity exists, though I don’t think I was ever in danger of buying drugs from an uncertified dispensary. The store my previous vet refused to work with is up to standards, according to Vet-VIPPS. Thus, their blanket refusal to work with online pharmacies appears more like an attempt to preserve their own corporate interests. The pamphlet sheds some light on the underlying rationale:

“Our pharmacy is a vital and integral part of our practice. It provides our clients and their pets with the latest technology, convenience, and the right medications — all at a competitive price. Revenue from our pharmacy allows us to purchase the latest equipment and pay for our caring, dedicated staff of professonals.”

This is reasonable and fairly straightforward. If you’re pleased with your vet, by all means you want them to make money and develop their work. I just think that in the case of my previous vet, prices were absolutely not competitive, and since I questioned the efficacy of their work, I wanted to go elsewhere.

Anyway, I dug around a little more online and found the American Veterinary Medical Association’s official policy on internet pharmacies. It sounds reasonable enough to me. My annoyance is with point #2:

Drugs may be dispensed or prescribed. Veterinarians should honor client requests to prescribe rather than dispense a drug (AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics). The client has the option of filling a prescription at any pharmacy.

However, if an option is not made known to a client, it isn’t really an option at all, is it? I don’t see anything in the AVMA guidelines that suggest that clinics display a sign reminding clients that they’re free to get prescriptions filled elsewhere, as I’ve heard some vets do. I’ve not had much need or experience with prescription medications for myself (knock on wood), so I am admittedly a bit ignorant about these things, but I would never have known this was an option unless other people told me.

Which leads me to my final gripe (for now) about parts of this material. I find the tone on some of these FAQs directed at pet owners to be downright patronizing. For example:

Q: A friend told me about an Internet site that sells drugs for pets, and it’s cheaper than I pay at my veterinarian. Why shouldn’t I order my pet’s drugs over the Internet?
A: Finding a “deal” makes you feel great…like you’ve outsmarted the system. But it’s only a great “deal” if you’re also receiving a quality product. Without quality, lower prices can prove to be a false savings. And sometimes the prices are not lower.

Why is the detail of “a friend told me” in this question even relevant, unless they mean to subtly discredit the very real function of anecdotes shared amongst pet owners (in contrast to information that comes straight from the vet)? When I found my “deals” online, I didn’t think I had outsmarted the system… I was actually thinking Yay capitalism! Yay free market! Yay for THE SYSTEM.

More generally, I marvel at the ways that Internet business changes the practices of so many “established” industries, and thus reminds me of just how new all these industries actually are. One of my favorite local video stores recently closed down, blaming Netflix for their demise (which is only part of the story, in my opinion). But video rental stores have only been significant for a few generations, taken for granted only amongst the nostalgic. Major music corporations frequently decry the proliferation of digital bootlegs, yet a large number of independent musicians embrace the mp3, YouTube, and so forth as viable and empowering supplements, if not subversions, to staid distribution practices. But even the idea of a being a rock star (or any kind of “star”) is fairly new in the history of modern culture, attendant on developments in mass media, economic standards of living, and globalization…

So I say, let the Internet pharmacies do their thing. They certainly won’t dismantle the solid veterinary practices, but they might inspire some long term changes to veterinary medicine as a whole, if both sides can get over their turf wars and eventually arrive at a system that works, particularly for legitimate clients… until the next wave of “radical” new ideas.

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