I recently exchanged emails with a woman who was feeling frustrated while searching for a new veterinarian. Her search included some “fee shopping” and she was disgruntled to find that some vets had the nerve to mark up lab fees more than others. She wrote to me to find out how she might gain access to the fees charged by commercial veterinary laboratories so she could figure out how much mark up each veterinarian applied. She mentioned that she’d found one vet she really liked, but she was “out of the running” because her office charged double the lab fees (exact same test) as two others she’d investigated.
Here’s how I responded. I encouraged my email buddy to consider reasons why fees are not uniform from hospital to hospital. In some cases, laboratory testing is run “in house” requiring on site technician time and costs involved in maintaining equipment. Certainly charges to the client for this should be higher. The expertise a veterinary specialist brings to interpreting laboratory test results may be greater than that of a general practitioner. Shouldn’t a client pay more for this? Additionally, every clinic must pay its overhead to continue to provide good service, and the more “bells and whistles” the hospital has, the higher that overhead will be. For example, if the hospital employs sophisticated equipment to monitor anesthesia, that’s a really good thing, right? Chances are, the fees for surgery there will be higher in order to cover the costs of this advanced level of care.
I went on to explain that I truly discourage people from price shopping when it comes to veterinary care unless it is an absolutely necessity. A sweet six-month-old Labrador is currently being treated at my hospital because she sustained a horrific thermal burn all along her back from a faulty heating pad used during her surgery at a low cost spay/neuter clinic. This has necessitated major reconstructive surgery over her back- a tremendous price to pay both in terms of money and what this poor dog is going through. By the end of our email thread my correspondent seemed convinced- she told me that she’d decided to use the vet she really liked in spite of more expensive lab tests. Hurray!
Now, I’m not completely naïve when it comes to how our current economy is influencing delivery of veterinary health care. I realize that for many folks, price shopping has become a financial necessity. When this is the case, I encourage the following:
-Do your best to avoid sacrificing quality of medical care. The old cliché, “You get what you pay for,” is often true. Be thorough in your investigation: don’t make up your mind based on brief over-the-telephone price quotes. Visit the clinic, tour the facility, and meet the staff to feel confident this is a place you and your pet will feel comfortable.
-Watch for “hidden” fees. Some clinics may offer an extremely reasonable quote for a surgical procedure, but then charge additional fees for the initial office visit or for post-surgical necessities like removing stitches.
-Keep in mind the potential for complications. If a significant complication occurs due to substandard care (such as occurred with the Labrador mentioned above) you will end up spending a great deal more money treating it, not to mention associated emotional energy, than you would have spent at the better more expensive clinic to begin with.
When you chose your veterinarian, how did fees enter into your decision-making? If so, how did things turn out? I’d love to hear about your experience.
Now here’s wishing you and your loved ones (including those who are furry or feathered) for a peaceful and healthy holiday season.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.
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