Veterinarians’ complaints drive PetMed Express from NAVC

Pharmacy to face critics at NAVC forum

December 7, 2011 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

PetMed Express will face the profession during a panel discussion at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando. The event is scheduled Jan. 15 at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center (above).
PetMed Express has pulled out of next month’s North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in response to protests by veterinarians who've used social media to air objections to the pet pharmacy’s presence at the event.

NAVC officials announced Tuesday in a Facebook post that PetMed Express voluntarily withdrew from the conference after being alerted to the controversy.

Initially, PetMed Express attempted to quell the backlash. On Monday, the company posted on NAVC’s Facebook page, responding to veterinarians who characterized NAVC’s decision to allow the online pharmacy to exhibit as “shameful.” But PetMed Express’s assertion that it “has a good relationship with many veterinarians” and wants to build on that only fueled the fury.

“How does faxing clients prepared board complaint forms concerning prescription refusals foster a relationship with the veterinary community?” quipped Memphis-area practice owner Dr. Thomas McCain, in a post on Facebook.

“… You've basically made veterinarians out to be ripping people off when it comes to prescription drug prices,” added Dr. Lauren Bowling, a practice owner in Bloomington, Ind.

Kate Odum, of Orlando, wrote: “A good relationship with many veterinarians? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA thank you for my laugh for the day."

By Tuesday afternoon, NAVC Executive Director Dr. Colin Burrows acknowledged that PetMed Express’ planned appearance at the convention “hit a nerve.”

“NAVC has received numerous concerned comments from veterinarians with regard to the announcement that PetMed Express was to be a new exhibitor and sponsor at the NAVC Conference 2012,” Burrows wrote on NAVC’s Facebook page. “I would like to relate that we appreciate and respect your concerns.”

Those 'concerns' had been flowing in since mid-November, when NAVC sent out an email blast announcing several new exhibitors including PetMed Express. The news didn’t go unnoticed, especially after veterinarians began alerting their colleagues on Facebook and the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online professional community.

NAVC is arguably the profession’s largest annual conference, hosting roughly 5,500 veterinarians and 1,400 technicians. The four-day conference begins Jan. 14 at the Marriott and Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center.

PetMed Express, commonly referred to as 1-800-PetMeds, has been a source of ire for veterinarians since the company’s 1996 debut. The online pharmacy competes directly with veterinarians for pharmacy sales — a traditional revenue stream for many private veterinary practices — and attempts to undercut practitioners on flea and tick killers acquired via gray market channels. Numerous state pharmacy boards have fined PetMed Express for dispensing prescription medications illegally, without a veterinary-client-patient relationship. And while the company’s most recent television advertisement features a veterinarian’s endorsement, earlier versions portrayed PetMed Express as a way for pet owners to circumvent what the company depicted to be superfluous and overpriced veterinary practices. 

When veterinarians first came to NAVC with their objections, the conference’s Board of Directors explained that they weren’t “in a position to discriminate or refuse a request to exhibit from a company in the veterinary healthcare industry.” PetMed Express paid $3,000 to host a booth in the Marriott World Center Orlando’s exhibit hall. The company also sponsored a session on holistic medicine for an undisclosed amount. (Prospective sponsors must purchase booth space, per NAVC policy.)

Now those plans are defunct, and the upshot has been applause from veterinarians such as Dr. Doralee Donaldson, who initiated a petition on to have PetMed Express booted from NAVC. In two days, the petition earned 149 signatures.

“Thank you NAVC!!! I greatly appreciate your listening. I commend the way you have handled this situation,” responded Donaldson in a post on Facebook.

“This was the right decision,” wrote Dr. Ruth Beismer of Radcliff, Ky.

However, the lack of booth space and session sponsorship doesn’t mean PetMed Express, based 200 miles south of Orlando in Pompano Beach, won’t surface at the show.

According to NAVC, a representative from PetMed Express will attend a panel discussion during the meeting, giving attendees a chance to express their concerns about the company and Internet pharmacies in general.

The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 15 in the Gaylord’s Tampa Room.

"The NAVC is committed to education,” explained the NAVC’s Burrows in a statement on Facebook. “It is our belief that airing this controversy falls well within that mission.”

Feedback on Facebook and VIN reveals that some are anxious to attend the panel discussion. Others, however, remain disappointed.

“I’m sorry, but why do I care what (PetMed Express) has to say?” wrote Dr. Susanne Heartsill, of Memphis, on NAVC’s Facebook page. “I, like others, am surprised and frankly put off at the concept of a company like (PetMed Express) being at my conference. I have found alternative CE next year and will now pay much closer attention to the vendors at the CE I do attend."

Exercising that right can have an impact, especially when like-minded colleagues unite for a common objective, remarked Dr. Chistopher Gunson in a VIN discussion.

“That was a very important event in my opinion,” Gunson wrote of PetMed Express' move to opt out of NAVC. “It showed the power of the social media to effect change in our profession.

He added, “This single event is not going to cure all our ills, but after being on the butt end of so much change for so long, I think many a trencher feels a slight sense of empowerment and a regaining of control because WE were able to make this happen.”


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