Dr. Race Foster to attend FTC workshop on Pet Medication Prescriptions and Distribution Practices
Veterinary Information News (VIN) recently reported that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be holding a workshop October 2, 2012 to seek public comments as they examine competition and consumer protection issues in the pet medication industry.
According to the FTC’s official workshop announcement:
“The workshop will consider how current industry distribution and other business practices affect consumer choice and price competition for pet medications; the ability of consumers to obtain written, portable prescriptions that they can fill wherever they choose; and the ability of consumers to verify the safety and efficacy of pet medications that they purchase. The workshop will also examine the extent to which recent changes to restricted distribution and prescription portability practices in the contact lens industry might yield lessons applicable to the pet medications industry.”
At the request of the FTC, Dr. Race Foster will be a participant in the FTC workshop so we sat down with him to get his thoughts on what is being examined by the FTC.
Question: Dr. Foster, what qualifications do you bring to the table as background regarding the issues the FTC is reviewing?
Answer: I’ve been a licensed veterinarian for nearly 30 years and co-owned four clinics for a number of years here in northern Wisconsin. I also served for four years on the Board of Directors for the Veterinary Teaching Hospital of Michigan State University.
As a veterinarian myself I’m a strong supporter of the veterinary profession (see another article by Dr. Foster regarding his support of the veterinary profession) and served at Michigan State University to help further the profession and build the next generation of veterinary professionals. Combining that with my years managing clinics in private practice and the privilege I’ve had in working with millions of consumers at Drs. Foster and Smith pet supplies for over 29 years, provides me with a unique perspective in the industry, and on the industry.
Question: One of the issues you’ll be addressing with the FTC, to quote them, is: “the ability of consumers to obtain written, portable prescriptions that they can fill wherever they choose.” Comment on that if you would.
Answer: The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) “Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics” already says that a veterinarian should honor a client’s request for a prescription in lieu of dispensing. I agree with the concept that the AVMA has set out. Consumers should have the choice of where they fill their prescriptions and I believe that choice will be enhanced by having veterinarians automatically provide a written prescription to each consumer. But unlike the human model where doctors generally are discouraged or prohibited from filling prescriptions for profit, I believe that veterinarians should continue to be able to fill prescriptions. The veterinary profession is different in many respects than the human doctor-patient model.
Question: How so?
Answer: While the pet prescription model is moving closer to the human model in that pet prescriptions, like human prescriptions, are routinely filled at pet pharmacies, in the world of veterinary medicine there are unique circumstances to consider.
For example, if a veterinarian is out on the farm treating a sick cow or horse, we don’t want to prevent that veterinarian from being able to prescribe and fill a prescription on the spot to help that animal. So I am a strong supporter of a veterinarian’s continued ability to fill prescriptions, and also of consumer choice. I think both work well to benefit the consumer and the animals being treated.
Question: What about the idea that prescriptions should only be filled where a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship exists?
Answer: Prescriptions should only be filled and can only be legally filled where a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship exists. The relationship being spoken of is the same concept as in the human model: the doctor has to actually see the patient on a regular basis to prescribe the medication. That is the definition of a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship. At that point any qualified pharmacy, whether the veterinarian’s pharmacy or an online pharmacy, can fill that prescription. This is how we conduct business at Drs. Foster and Smith. We only sell prescription medicines when either the consumer or the veterinarian has provided a prescription to us.
Question: Describe what you mean by a “qualified” pharmacy.
Answer: The AVMA recommends that pet owners looking to fill prescriptions online do so at Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (Vet-VIPPS) pharmacies like ours here at Drs. Foster and Smith. Vet-VIPPS has a stringent certification process, making sure that those who are certified with the Vet-VIPPS seal meet the highest pharmacy industry standards. At the time of this interview, there are only 18 Vet-VIPPS certified pharmacies in the United States.
Additionally, pharmacies are both FDA and DEA inspected. While I strongly support the concept of veterinarians being able to fill prescriptions, the average consumer may not know that a pharmacy like ours is qualified to dispense even human medications and as such must meet very high standards. At our Vet-VIPPS Certified Pharmacy, we employ a unique combination of pharmacists and veterinarians. This ensures quality control.
Question: Being a qualified pharmacy raises the question regarding restricted pet prescription medications distribution that the FTC is looking into. It is reported that some manufacturers restrict their distribution of not only prescription products but non-prescription products as well, saying they should only be sold by veterinarians.
Answer: That’s true.
Question: Why do they do that and what are the implications for consumers?
Answer: While I can’t be sure of manufacturers’ motivation, it appears to us at Drs. Foster and Smith that controlling the price is their focus. If a pharmacy is qualified to fill human medications, it is odd that a manufacturer would sell them human medications to dispense, but would not sell them medications to fill a pet’s prescription, alleging that the pharmacy isn’t qualified.
Some of these medications, like blood pressure medications, certain insulins, anti-depressants, pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, are oftentimes identical to those used in humans. Distribution restriction by the manufacturers is particularly perplexing when a pharmacy, like ours, has veterinarians on staff. What other motivation could there be other than controlling the price? I don’t know, but that is what it appears to be to me.
The same principle holds true regarding over-the-counter (OTC) products like flea and tick preventives. Manufacturers go to great lengths to have drugs tested and approved by the FDA as over-the-counter products; yet in terms of distribution those same manufacturers treat them as though they are prescription products claiming that a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship is required for the product to be sold.
But with OTC products, whether for humans or pets, no prescription nor a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship is required. That is in fact what OTC means: the product can be sold over the counter with no prescription or valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship required.
Therefore, in my opinion, it appears that for price control purposes manufacturers are twisting the meaning of both the OTC designation and the concept of a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship.
There are exceptions to this kind of practice by manufacturers. One manufacturer we work with, for example, sells its prescription and OTC products directly to qualified retailers and pharmacies and doesn’t restrict distribution. That’s a big plus for consumers in terms of price and choice and the number of animal patients having access to proper treatment.
Question: If there were a message you wanted to send to the FTC, what would it be?
Answer: First, that the veterinary profession is a great profession. Veterinarians are among the most respected professionals in the country. I’ve never met a veterinarian whose first priority wasn’t the health of the animals they serve.
Second, in my opinion, the practice of controlled distribution harms pet-owning consumers. It limits their choices and costs them more than necessary for prescription and OTC products alike. Pets may suffer if medications are not readily and economically available.
Question: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
Answer: I’m hopeful that professionals such as Dr. Ernie Ward and those in the veterinary media like VIN will be part of the FTC workshop. I think there are some positive changes that can be made to help consumers, while at the same time keeping in place the strong relationships pet owners have with their veterinarians.
About Doctors Foster and Smith
With nearly 30 years experience providing quality pet supplies and expert pet care advice, Doctors Foster and Smith is the #1 catalog and online seller of pet supplies and pharmaceuticals in the industry. For more information visit us online http://www.DrsFosterSmith.com or contact Gordon Magee at Gordon.Magee@DrsFosterSmith.com