1-800-PET-MEDS - Not the Best Option
Apr 6, 2005 (Updated Apr 6, 2005)
As a certified skeptic, I specialize in gift horse dentistry. When something seems too good to be true, I look well below the surface to see if there is any justifiable cause for my concern. This was the case with 1-800-PET-MEDS, a web site specializing in supplying the end user (pet owner) with medications and veterinary supplies normally purchased through certified veterinarians. The site also offers the convenience of serving as a one-stop shop for a limited number of non-veterinary pet products including toys and accessories, supplements and grooming supplies.
Just as the Alka-Seltzer jingle remains with me to this day, the 1-800-PET-MEDS commercial engraved that web sites URL forever in my memory. The Madison Avenue types behind the ads have reason to hide their faces in shame; they supplied us with truth in their advertising simply by omitting a few necessary facts.
Does 1-800-PET-MEDS offer name brand medications, vaccinations, salves and other supplies normally only available through certified veterinary clinics? In a word, yes that is a fact. Do the staff members manning the phones for that web site offer half-truths when handling consumer issues? Most definitely, and they do so with great skill.
By using the sites simple navigation tools, even a novice web surfer can locate products with one or two clicks of a mouse. The site requires prescriptions from a veterinarian before dispensing certain medications including heartworm preventatives, vaccines, certain parasite control products and some dietary supplements. Consumers who spend more than $39.99 receive free ground shipping.
For each product requiring a prescription, that information is plainly stated under the paragraph titled Availability. Each page offers a synopsis of the information provided on the product insert supplied with the prescription-only medications.
Maybe Sold! Maybe Not!
The sites navigation system may be user friendly but the shopping cart is nothing short of glitchy. I placed my order for a six-pack of Interceptor, a heartworm medication, by going through a series of pages containing various form fields. The sites secure shopping cart appeared no different from those of many other online merchants. When clicking to finalize the sale, the resulting printable invoice contained very little information aside from the name and total cost of the product and the invoice reference number.
Within the first 24-hours, no e-mail verification was received as promised during the checkout process. Shopping online for nearly ten years has not quieted that little voice in my head that whispers, sucker every time I finalize an initial purchase. The lack of follow-up by 1-800-PET-MEDS turned that whisper into a ear-blasting scream. After checking to see whether or not my credit card showed charges from that web site, I called the 800-number to see if the purchase went through. According to the customer service representative, there was no trace of any order being processed through their system. I placed the order a second time and waited for verification that my dogs veterinarian provided the necessary prescription.
Later that day, I received a form letter from 1-800-PET-MEDS letting me know that Belas vet refused to okay the order. That letter offered the suggestion that I contact the vet directly and ask him to fax or phone in the prescription. Thinking this was fast becoming too much trouble for a five-dollar savings, I decided to call the clinic.
The person I spoke with explained that the clinic did not supply prescriptions for online purchases. She stated that medications sold by 1-800-PET-MEDS would not be covered by the Novartis (Interceptors manufacturer) guarantee that covers treatments for heartworms should the pets tests show positive results during the annual heartworm test. That guarantee covers all treatment costs if the patients owner has the documentation to prove purchase of the product from a certified veterinarian every six months (for 6-tablet supply) or every year (for 12-tablet supply) along with proof of annual negative heartworm test results.
When I asked why the same medication supplied online by prescription would not carry the same guarantee, the clinic staff member said that Novartis was not a supplier of 1-800-PET-MEDS and had no idea where they were purchasing the product for resale.
That conversation left me wondering if the clinic staff had been instructed to give that information in order to thwart prescription purchases from outside sources. Web sites selling prescription medications are suspect but the highly visible 1-800-PET-MEDS seemed more credible than many other similar sites. I wondered if what I had been told was the truth or a method used by the clinic to check the competition.
Consider the source and ask the horse
Conflicting information abounds, especially when there is competition for the almighty consumer dollar. I telephoned the web sites customer service once again to confirm what I learned from the veterinary clinic. Insisting on speaking with a supervisor, I listened as the well-spoken representative explained that the same guarantees apply whether the product is purchased through a veterinary office or through their web site. The supervisor added that competition from their site hit veterinarians in the wallet thanks to the new wrinkle, specifically non-exclusive sales of certain products that once were the veterinarian clinics domain.
In a case where every explanation rang true to a point, to come to some sort of rational decision required one more phone call. Novartis Animal Health, US, offers an 800-number on their product packaging. I called to ask for clarification on their Interceptor guarantee and was immediately connected to Jennifer, a technical product specialist. She echoed what the veterinary clinic staff member told me about their guarantee not applying to heartworm medications sold through 1-800-PET-MEDS.
She added that they receive many calls from consumers wondering why the product packaging information was in a foreign language. In those cases, the product had been supplied to the web site through other countries (Novartis manufactures its products outside the US for purchase in foreign countries) and the medication manufactured elsewhere does not carry FDA approval. In other cases where the product packaging seems right, the supplier of the product is suspect since Novartis is not a supply source for 1-800-PET-MEDS. Should a pet end up with a positive test result for heartworms after taking Interceptor purchased online, Novartis would not cover the cost of treatment.
The only exception to this involves purchases of Novartis products made through VetCentric.com, a web site that has an agreement with the manufacturer.
During my conversation with Jennifer, I mentioned that it was entirely possible that a pet owner could purchase Interceptor as directed, have the necessary annual tests and still not use the product as directed. Considering that, it appears Novartis may be liable for treatment expenses directly related to end-user misuse of the preventative medication. The response surprised me, as long as the documentation of testing and purchase meets the companys requirements, they cover the cost of treatment.
Calculating the Savings
When considering a five or even ten-dollar savings per item when purchasing medications online, the possibility of losing the manufacturers guarantee should come into play. The average cost of heartworm treatment, depending upon your veterinarians fee schedule, usually averages between five hundred and a thousand dollars. During the lifespan of a pet, the savings from purchasing these products online does not even come close to the cost of treatment.
1-800-PET-MEDS advertises significant savings on medications and pet supplies. They offer brand name medications and a very limited variety of other pet supplies. Purchasing toys, beds, restraints and even pet food online may benefit our wallets; purchasing medications through web a site probably does not serve our pets best interests.