Posted on January 18, 2014
Changing Relationships Between Veterinarians and Their Clients
Many of my veterinary colleagues have been up in arms about a recent ABC 20/20 broadcast that asked the question, “Can you trust that your veterinarian is being honest with you?” During the episode, “secret shoppers” presented two overtly healthy dogs to multiple veterinarians. Two vets recommended anesthetic dental cleaning based on minimal tartar accumulation. Another vet was adamant about administering an annual distemper vaccination- this in spite of the fact that current vaccination guidelines recommend that this vaccine be given to adult dogs no more than once every three years. The show’s intended take home message appeared to be, “Buyer beware! Not all veterinarians are to be trusted. Some appear to be more interested in their financial bottom line than the welfare of their patients.”
Know that as I write this, I am exhaling a heavy sigh……… I recognize that part, if not all, of the 20/20 piece is “sensationalized journalism.” Nonetheless, it has left me feeling sad and disillusioned. Am I surprised by what the show portrayed? No, not in the least. Thanks to my many conversations with you, my readers, I’ve been well aware of the public’s growing mistrust of my beloved profession.
The way I see it, the pendulum of public perception has now swung both ways in terms of how veterinarians are viewed. When I graduated from vet school in 1982, animal docs were universally revered, all basking under the golden glow of “the James Herriot halo”. Rarely were we questioned or doubted by our clients. Now, here we are at the opposite end of the spectrum- client mistrust of veterinarians has become commonplace. Folks are opting to consult with “Dr. Google” rather than a doctor with a veterinary degree. The fact of the matter is, neither extreme is a healthy place to be. Blind trust and mistrust both undermine what brings all of us into the exam room, namely the desire to achieve the best medical outcomes for those animals we love so dearly.
My hope is that this swinging pendulum will come to rest at a place in the middle where veterinarians and their clients can experience open and honest dialogue, discussion of options, collaboration, and mutual respect. In fact, this is the description of “relationship centered care”, the style of professional communication and interaction that produces the very best medical outcomes.
So, what can all of us do to influence the swing of the pendulum? For those of you who are consumers of veterinary medicine, if not already doing so, I strongly encourage you to work with a veterinarian who provides “relationship centered care”. There are plenty such vets out there, and working with one will readily restore your faith in the profession. If you need help finding such a practitioner, Speaking for Spot will provide you with step-by-step guidance.
What can veterinarians do? According to a recent report, approximately 60 percent of veterinarians continue to vaccinate more frequently than is recommended by current professional guidelines. If you are a vet and your vaccination protocol lands you within this 60 percent category and/or you find yourself recommending tests or procedures that do not clearly serve the best interests of your patients, I respectfully encourage you to take an honest look at your motivation for doing so. Financial gain may not be the reason, as the 20/20 show would have us believe. Pressure from pharmaceutical company reps, fear of losing clients, aversion to change, or simply staying stuck in outdated veterinary school patterns are some of the factors that may be at play. Whatever the reason, it’s time to shake things up a bit. Positive or negative, the actions any one veterinarian takes ultimately reflects on each and every one of us.
What are your current perceptions of the veterinary profession?
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
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
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
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook
Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. 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 and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.