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Family Pet Animal Care - March 2015 - Lessons in Veterinary Hospital Etiquette

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Family Pet Animal Care - March 2015 - Lessons in Veterinary Hospital Etiquette

by Dr. Michael Trapani

We frequently hear complaints about paying for veterinary care. It’s as if people believe the veterinarian has a magical ability to loan money or arbitrarily decide what to charge for a particular pet’s care. In my dreams!

We all know “Prices are subject to change.”  Veterinarians CERTAINLY know this because our suppliers send us cheery letters several times a year to inform us that they’re raising prices AGAIN. Of course, we can always buy from their competitor, if they have a competitor: Too often, they do not. We purchase supplies for particular pieces of equipment that have only one manufacturer. Brand-name drugs are often sold by numerous suppliers — at the same price — which is set by the maker. It doesn’t matter from whom we buy, the price is the same and includes the latest price increase.

Our landlord raises the rent every year. He passes along every increase in insurance and property tax and maintenance costs and repairs. These things are part of every commercial lease. If I don’t like it, I can close my business. Insurance goes up. PG&E goes up. Water goes up. Taxes go up. It’s the same everywhere and EVERYONE experiences the same thing, whether at home, at work, or in their own business. I could go on and on, but what’s the point? Everyone knows these things. Bizarrely, certain people will stand at the veterinarian’s reception desk to complain, often loudly, about a 50¢ price increase on a box of medication they purchase twice a year.

I speak for a great many small, family owned veterinary practices when I say that it’s not our goal to provide the poorest, cheapest veterinary care possible. We want our facilities to be a Nordstrom, a place you visit when you seek what’s best. We did not become veterinarians to open the Dollar Store of animal health care. Your pet is not just an animal to us, it is part of our extended animal family and deserves the best care we can provide.

We get it: Everyone likes a bargain.  But no one goes shopping at Nordstrom and then complains that they can buy it cheaper at Walmart - because they can’t, and they know it.

Some people complain about veterinary prices when those prices are actually lower than what's offered elsewhere. I don’t expect people to keep track of the wide range of prices offered by the many veterinary service providers, but it’s difficult to understand resentment directed at pleasant and hardworking people who are just doing their jobs - and doing them well. Do the complainers say this stuff to their attorney? Their mechanic? The checker at Safeway? I don’t think so.

While the vast majority of veterinary clients are appreciative and know prices are fair and reasonable, the words of the few are stinging and not soon forgotten. Maybe the veterinary office is a place safe enough that some people feel comfortable venting. Even if true, this doesn’t make us feel any better.

At least the complainers pay their bills. Some people stroll past the “Payment is Due at the Time of Service” sign, use half an hour of the doctor’s time, load up a cart full of services and medications, and  then, when it’s time to settle up say, “ I can’t pay today. I’ll catch up with you later.” I don’t know of another business where this behavior takes place, but it’s too, too common at the veterinary hospital. And it’s not OK. Would these people try this at Safeway? I don’t think so.

To get the best from your veterinarian, you have to do your part. That means expressing concerns about costs and payment openly and in advance. We’d like to help, truly, but we’re veterinarians, not bankers. Be honest with us and we’ll find the best way to help your pet at a price you can afford. It’s what we do.

To paraphrase Thoreau, “Most small business owners lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is especially true of small veterinary practitioners. We did not get into our profession expecting to make a ton of money, (which is wise - because we don’t) but a veterinarian has absolutely no ability to help sick animals (or their owners) if we cannot pay our bills.