A recent letter in the Yuma (Arizona) Sun from a gentleman complaining about the cost of veterinary care and a supposedly simpler time gone by, deserved a response. The letter is below and my reply is below that.
© 2010 YumaSun
What happened to veterinarians?
02/13/2011 6:07 PM
Growing up on a farm in the South we had horses, cows, chickens, dogs and cats — not to mention all the wild animals that made visits occasionally.
If it were not for “Socks,” our trusty collie, the chickens would have had visits from Mr. Fox every night. Socks was on guard 24/7. He was such a great dog. Socks never got sick; he was tough as nails and could hold his own with anything, and he did. No animal came calling without Socks’ approval.
Late one night he did battle with a big fox wanting one of our chickens. Socks won but came to our back door limping and cut up.
We put him in the truck and took him to town to see good ole Dr. Ford who was the kind of veterinarian everyone should know.
He always wore jeans, cowboy boots and a white medical coat with big pockets that were filled with his scissors, tape, bandages and all kinds of pills and salves. He always had a stethoscope tied around his neck. Dr. Ford never made you wait, never. He took Socks right in, sewed him up, gave him a shot and cleaned his wounds around his face. We went home with a few pills and a bill for 15 dollars — that’s right, 15 dollars!
Going to see a veterinarian today is like going to see a medical doctor and just as costly. You have to see the girl at the front desk, fill out detailed forms about yourself, your home, your bank and finally about your pet. Next you sit and wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, you are called. You go in this room and see another person — not a doctor but a doctor’s helper or assistant.
Again, you are asked question after question. They look at your pet, rub their hands up and down them, look at their eyes, ears and mouth. Then the assistant says, “The doctor will be in shortly.” It’s the wait game again. After about 20 minutes the doctor comes in. The reception is cool. The doctor goes over all the same questions we just answered with the assistant. They leave the room and come back with two estimates to treat your pet. One is considered short-term, the other is long-term care, all typed nicely on a computer. Sticker shock sets in. Are you kidding — $500 to do what?
Let me ask you this: Is that why I see so many stray dogs and cats today? People cannot afford to spend that $500 on their dog or cat so they just turn them loose on the street. I would hope not. Why is it so costly to take your pet in to see a vet? Dr. Ford charged 15 bucks. Has the cost escalated that much or is it that the young people practicing veterinary medicine today have created large medical facilities with 15 employees and huge expenses? It’s a question, not a slam at anyone. The last office I went to I counted 8 employees (not counting doctors) and an office big enough to staff 6 doctors. Art work was everywhere on the walls. We waited for hours.
The other thing is they take your pet out of the little office to treat it. You cannot watch. Dr. Ford never did that. If it is a serious procedure they want you to sign a legal form saying you will not hold them responsible if something should happen. No joke. Sign this legal form or we will not do the procedure.
Are the veterinarians today stuck between what they love to do and the high cost of doing business? Are they mired in big, fancy offices with too many employees in medical garb? Is it necessary to have five doctors, 15 employees and the struggle to keep a thousand patients to pay the bills every month? Is it easy to turn away a family with a sick dog or cat because the bill is too high? What has happened to the friendly veterinarian we called Dr. Ford? Mike Haley, Yuma, © 2010 YumaSun
And my reply:
Mr. Haley’s letter to the editor lamenting the changes in veterinary medicine (2/13/2011, 6:07 PM,http://www.yumasun.com/opinion/chick…rses-cows.html) really asks “what happened to the “simple life”, as well as the simpler model of veterinary medicine, now long gone?”
Well, let’s see for starters, Dr. Ford accepted just $15.00 a case regardless of medical complexity. To make a decent living either he must have inherited great wealth, or more likely, if the quoted $15.00 is true, he had to work incredibly long hours. His children, hardly seeing him, and knowing how hard he had to work to make ends meet, resolved never to go into veterinary medicine, or if they did, never to practice in a way that gave away the store as did their father.
Meanwhile, medicine advanced and human as well as pet lives lengthened and improved, and the public generally, as well as their attorneys, expected higher standards of care and better outcomes, not just for one dog but for the majority. Boards of veterinary medicine reviewed cases of poor care and veterinarians were disciplined. In the end, the standards were raised for all.
Mr. Haley makes three mistakes in his assumption of better days in old times. One is that the single case of Socks’ longevity with minimal care
does not translate to the same for the next 10,000 dogs with similar lives in those times. The second is that Dr. Ford’s model could never work today. People expect more and will move on to a new veterinarian, or sue, to insist on or find better care. The third, and most common mistake many, many pet owners make, is thinking they themselves are typical of all pet owners; that the level of care and expense they’d tolerate to gain a pet’s health, whether high or low, is the norm. That mistake couldn’t be further from the truth as every practicing veterinarian knows. Indeed sometimes the poorest people will do the most for an ill pet, and the converse is also very commonly true. It often comes down to “do you want a dog, or this dog?” and what are you willing to do to keep him?
In many areas of life, mature people sometimes long for “days gone by.” In medicine, and in veterinary medicine, however, few do. Most people want the best care they can afford for themselves and for their animals. New medicines, technologies and most important knowledge, have revolutionized medicine today. Veterinary medicine is ready and able to provide that level of care. You get exactly what you pay for.
(originally posted at PetDocsonCall.com, February 2011)
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