2024 Veterinary Medicine Trends to Look Out For
As we approach the end of 2023, it's time to take a look at which of the current trends in veterinary medicine we anticipate will continue over the next few years, and how we can make the best decisions for our practices. While many 2023 veterinary trends will persist into the next year, we'll start to feel more impact from them, and that means being agile and open to change in our practices to continue to be successful. Here's what you might expect in your practices in the new year.
Much of the developed world has been focused on fighting inflation. Interest rates are up, and liquidity is being reduced through quantitative tightening. The impact has been slow to arrive, but a recession is still possible in 2024. Slower sales may meet with continuing higher costs. And while veterinary medicine has been somewhat insulated in past recessions, it's still important to keep an eye on the local market for the first signs of changes or a slowdown.
- Client financial constraints: As some pet owners reach the end of their post-pandemic savings, cost will increasingly be a significant factor for them. This is something I am already seeing in my practices with an increase in diagnostics being declined. This is where offering a spectrum of care to meet clients' budgets is essential. Ensure that all members of your practice understand how to tailor plans and make sure this process is judgment-free to help get care to your patients. Not being able to say yes to a particular treatment plan doesn't mean a client cares any less about their pet.
- Preventive care: After the struggle to meet demand for so long, we're starting to see a decrease in wellness care visits, and this will likely continue. Large employers are asking more people to return to the office. This means pets are not in front of their owners as often, and their needs are no longer as visible. That's bad for the long-term health of patients—and practices. Effective client communications and robust reminder systems will help keep patients' needs at the top of your clients' minds.
- Wage And Hiring Pressures: In defiance of expectations, the U.S. labor market has continued to grow the number of available jobs, and that has kept the market tight for hires in veterinary medicine. This trend will likely continue for at least the first half of next year. Fewer people are reported jumping between companies, reducing the pressure to offer higher wages, but new risks are becoming apparent. Factors from recent well-publicized raises for union employees to fast food minimum wage legislation in California are causing team members to look at their own compensation and ask if it's keeping up. Expect to see additional wage cost pressures until the economy cools later in 2024.
Even without the economic drivers for more efficiency, the number of doctors available falls below the number of open positions—a trend that's continued over the last year. As practice managers and owners, we need to continue to deliver changes in the way veterinary medicine is practiced to meet demand, making the best use of our teams and technology while adapting to new client and patient flows.
- Artificial intelligence: The prevalence and capabilities of AI systems have exploded in the last 12 months. Today, modern AI can assist with tasks ranging from radiology interpretation to writing job postings. There is an opportunity for an increased use of these systems in our practices, many of which are only starting to be explored: from chatbots that can book appointments and direct client requests to in-practice lab systems improving their speed and efficiency. While ethical questions remain about these systems making decisions that affect patient outcomes, you can expect their use to increase significantly in the coming years.
- Increased efficiencies: The 2023 study, "Finding the Time," looked at ways practices can adapt their existing processes, freeing up doctor time and delivering better results for clients and patients. The focus on shifting some of the doctor burden in veterinary medicine to other team members, or even AI systems, is likely to accelerate as practices figure out how to do more with fewer doctors. Discussions with local veterinary boards about the best way to make this work in their areas will continue and hopefully start to show results.
- Emergency and urgent care: My practices are not the only ones that reduced or eliminated weekend and evening services, shifting that load onto local urgent and emergency care practices. 2024 DVM candidates tell us repeatedly that work-life balance is a critical benefit, and they don't want to work evenings and weekends. This trend is expected to persist, creating additional issues in hiring in rural areas with on-call needs. It could also drive compensation higher in emergency and urgent care practices as they work to find doctors for their irregular shift patterns.
2024 could bring some challenges, but also some benefits. As we work through the hurdles of a potentially slow economy, we will have the opportunity to create processes and integrate technologies that will help build stronger practices in the long term.