Posted on August 1, 2011
The Elephant in the Middle of the Exam Room
My dual career as an author and a practicing veterinarian provides me with a unique vantage point. Not only am I privy to the issues my veterinary colleagues are stewing about, I also receive a plethora of emails from my readers candidly venting about their experiences as consumers of veterinary medicine. It’s rare that those on both sides of the exam room table are growling about the same issue, but these days this is certainly the case.
See if you can identify the elephant in the exam room based on the following data that has appeared in current veterinary news feeds along with quotes from recent correspondences with my readers:
– The number of pet visits to veterinary hospitals is dramatically decreasing (DVM Newsmagazine, June 2011), and a special session was held at this year’s conference of the American Veterinary Medical Association to explore ways to increase public awareness about the importance of annual checkups for pets.
– “In my opinion, most of the decline in veterinary visits is primarily due to the bad economy. If you are barely scraping by, you are certainly not going to the vet for a very pricey annual exam, especially if your pet seems fine.”
– While pet spending is up, the market isn’t growing fast enough to support the number of new veterinarians entering the veterinary profession. (DVM Newsmagazine, June 2011) Veterinarian supply is growing faster than pet owner demand. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)
– “Sadly there are some veterinarians who see hospitalization fees as a revenue stream and do not inform clients that no one will be supervising the pet they recommend be hospitalized. While one tends to like to think of their vet as a kind, caring person and many are, some are more business than heart.”
– Eighty-nine percent of current veterinary school graduates have student debt. The average student loan debt of students graduating in 2010 from veterinary school was $133,873 (15% have debt in excess of $200,000) and the average starting salary was $48,674. (Veterinary Information Network News Service, January 4, 2011)
– “My question is why most vets feel the need to worry about money instead of worrying about taking care of the pets.”
– Although the number of households in the United States with cats is increasing, the number of feline visits to veterinary hospitals is decreasing. (Banfield Pet Hospital® State of Pet Health 2011 Report)
– “I’d love to take each of my cats in for dental cleaning on a regular basis and I have two cats that desperately need attention now. For me, it’s a matter of costs. Vets continue to increase their charges and there’s no break for multiple pets. Dental disease is a precursor for renal failure in cats and yet it’s so expensive for cleaning – yet alone extracting any teeth. Then blood work is usually advisable to be on the safe side. It’s a small fortune when you leave the vet’s office for ONE pet. Next you’ve got the cost associated with monthly flea control. You have to draw the line somewhere and hope for the best.”
– Fifty-four percent of cat owners and 47% of dog owners report that they would take their pet to the veterinary hospital more often if each visit were less expensive. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)
– “I am not saying veterinarians can’t charge a reasonable fee for their services, but most people can’t afford $300+ bills every time they step into a clinic, per pet, per year, and that is for the healthy ones who are coming in for regular yearly checkups and not for other medical concerns that require medications, further diagnostics, overnight stays, dental cleaning, blood work etc.”
– Fifty three percent of clients believe that veterinary clinic costs are usually much higher than expected. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)
– “I am sick and tired of the way veterinarians financially take advantage of people who are emotionally upset about their pets.”
– Twenty-four percent of pet owners believe that routine checkups are unnecessary and 36% believe that vaccinations are the main reason to take their overtly healthy pet in for an office visit. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)
– “We have a lot of price gouging going on here at local vets. A dental cleaning has gone from $75 to $300 and up at many places. A lot of the clinics are buying high tech equipment and passing overhead costs on us so they really shouldn’t complain when clients come for less visits.”
Have you identified the common thread amongst these comments and statistics? No doubt in my mind that the “gripe du jour” is the “M word.” Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the real issue is too little money.
This blog is not intended to create or perpetuate harsh judgments. Please hear me when I say that I know that not every veterinarian or every person who brings their pet to see the vet is thinking primarily about money. Clearly, however, money matters are on the minds of many, in fact more so than I’ve witnessed throughout my thirty year career. Never before have I observed colleagues declare bankruptcy. Never before have I spent so much time in the exam room trying to help folks figure out how to do more with less.
My goal in presenting this information is to create some understanding about what’s going on in the minds of individuals on both sides of the exam room table. Blame this money mess state of mind on the diseased economy, veterinary competition, or the expense of going to veterinary school. Whatever the causes, there is an awful lot of emotion tangled up in the financial aspects of providing and receiving veterinary health care these days.
What are your thoughts? Let’s talk about it and in doing so we will be able to kick that big ole’ elephant out of the middle of the exam room!
Best wishes for good health,
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, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence 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.