Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Another from the Mailbag

A really great entry sent in from a reader who experiences the same types of scenarios as the rest of us.  More proof that those of us at the VBB are not alone in our jaded views!

I just found myself at my desk here at VBB Animal Hospital with my formulary open, phone in my hand and six internet windows open. I was researching treatment options for a patient with allergies. I wasn’t researching drugs or treatment options - I already have those down pretty well. What I was researching was a cost effective option for clients who love their dog and want her to stop itching, but for whom money is a concern. So, there I was, still sitting at my desk an hour after closing time, calling pharmacies, googling on line compounding pharmacies and calculating dosages for multiple drugs - all to find the cheapest option for treating this itchy dog.

And you know what? This isn’t uncommon. At all. We vets hear again and again owners accusing us of only being in it for the money and charging outrageous prices for care. Who among us hasn’t heard, “If you really loved animals, you’d treat him for free.” But I had an epiphany this week when I realized how much time my staff and I dedicate to trying to make care affordable. And I don’t think I am alone here.

My staff frequently finds me staring at a shelf in the pharmacy. Fluffy needs antibiotics, or pain medications or some other expensive treatment. I usually have a few options for treating. So I stand there, appearing to be in a trance, but the cogs of my brain are turning, performing a series of calculations to determine how I can dose with half a pill at a time, or use once daily dosing, or which drugs are available as a generic, or use a liquid formulation, other mathematical manipulations to determine what the cheapest option is. And when I’m done with my calculations, there is a fair chance I’ll then refer to the Big Box Store $4 prescription list and then write a script for something cheaper than what I can offer.

Here are some other examples from just this week of what happened at my hospital. I had my staff call every referral hospital in a 100 mile radius to compare prices for a procedure I don’t perform so we could help the client find the most affordable option. We special ordered medications twice this week for clients because those drugs were going to be the cheapest treatment option for the patient. Every sick pet is provided an estimate for treatment. We always offer the best first. But when that isn’t an option, we spend as much time as it takes working with the owner to come up with a treatment plan that works with in his budget. I don’t answer the phone unless I absolutely have to, but I listen to my staff do it. And I hear them answers questions all day long. Sure, sometimes the answer is, “Let’s schedule an exam so Dr. VBB can examine Fido,” - because that is the right thing to do. But lots of times we can get you the information you need - and it’s free. If you have a question for me in the exam room, and I don’t know the answer, I’m going to find that answer for you. It might take me an hour of sifting through text books (yup, I still have some of those), consulting with other veterinarians or online veterinary groups. And then I’ll call you back and let you know what I learned. And unlike a lawyer, I won’t charge you for a minute of that time. It all gets covered in your bargain basement physical exam fee. We also treated a post dental complication this week in a cat - the owner wasn’t able to medicate her at home, so she brought her to the hospital daily for treatment, including weekends when we are not normally open. Charge for that? Free. And finally this week, I have brought into my home an obese little dog. Her owner struggles to get weight off of her. So I am converting her to a diet of actual dog food and getting her little body waddling along several times a day. I hope that if I can start a diet change and some exercise and her owner will see it is possible, he will be able to keep it up and make the dog he loves so much healthier. The charge to the client for this service? Zero.

So, I know veterinary care is expensive. I am well aware since I pay the bills for all that stuff that keeps my hospital running. But I do have your financial concerns on my mind. Always. Even when you don’t see what happens, I am working hard for you and your pet and often not charging for my time (and sometimes supplies) and often working (sometimes behind the scenes) to find the most cost effective treatment plan for your pet. I thought you should know what happens at VBB Animal Hospital - I bet you’d find it happens at your veterinarian, too.


  1. Bravo! And absolutely true - at least in my own experience. I have four Danes, and understand that this is not an inexpensive breed to keep or to treat, and I'm willing and able to pay for what is needed to get the best possible outcomes. But without my even asking, my vet routinely offers me less expensive alternatives, and will be very upfront about options that will work just as well but won't cost as much. And she never charges for all the time she spends on research or phone calls, or even staying after hours for me.

  2. I may draw the ire ire of both colleagues and clients but we need to quit doing this. Our time is valuable. Vet care should be much more expensive. Pets are a luxury, as is animal protein. Our professional assistance in maintaining both should be paid for at a level that covers our costs (education, overhead) and compensates us for our time. If what we have to charge is higher than people are willing to pay, we should quit being vets. Ideally in that scenario people would also quit having pets and raising livestock. Instead the animals suffer, and many of us cheapen ourselves to try to prevent it. No easy answers.