How to Get Better Results From Veterinarians
What To Do When Your Pet is Still Sick?
Basically, you’ve gone to the vet. Maybe many veterinarians. Your dog still has terrible skin, or your cat still vomits almost every day. You are frustrated. The profession that is supposed to help you has let you down and taken your money in the meantime and you are sad and alienated. Sound about right?
You Just Can’t Face Disappointment from Another Doctor
As a veterinarian, I must overcome the pessimism and honestly, the “wall” between you and veterinary medicine that has been built brick-by-brick over years of disappointment and poor results. Do not misunderstand me- I love my profession. Every veterinarian is devoted to their work moreso than any other profession we know. But miscommunication about money, expectations, and a failure to express human concern for someone’s suffering pet have chased pet parents away from the veterinarian’s consultation room.
It Seems Like My Vet is All About Money
If it feels like you are spending money for nothing, it is not because your veterinarian is greedy. Someone smart enough to beat 80-120 people for their spot at veterinary college (which is the odds nowadays) certainly could have gone into any profession that actually pays very well. For instance, the average starting pay for a veterinarian n the US in 2010 was $67,359 with $133,873 average loan debt. A full veterinarian in the US earns an average of $90,110 compared to pharmacists at $108, 830, chiropractors at $93,450, dentists at $132,230 (with only 3 years of grad school), and physicians at $174,280/year income. Veterinarians work long, long hours, usually on-call, for very little compensation compared to loan debt and intellectual potential that we have devoted to animal health.
So why does it clearly feel like it’s about money when you go to the vet’s office? I believe there are a few contributing reasons. One is stress about money. There never seems to be enough and most people do not have a separate budget for their pet’s healthcare. (Get pet insurance, or set aside about $1,000 for common emergencies.)
It always seems like “extra” and an “emergency” when your pet gets sick. It’s stressful. Now, I am not saying that you show this stress or even say anything about it to your veterinarian. I know most people are kind and polite and private. They would not dream of telling the vet or the nurse about their personal finances. So how does this affect your relationship with your vet?
The last 5 people in the door did talk about finances! Some of the pet parents were hostile, mean, blaming, condemning. Veterinarians know the best health recommendations for your pet, yet most people cannot afford it. Or let’s be fair, maybe they can, but they can’t afford it during the consultation because it’s new information and they haven’t consulted a veterinarian before getting the pet, so they are in a little bit of shock over the care needed and the costs involved.
You may ask politely for a payment plan. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, your veterinarian probably has about $100,000 in accounts receivable. That means a year’s work that no one has paid for. Then you think, “but it’s all profit anyway.” You think? Did you know that a veterinary office, if it is well-run and tops in the area, makes a profit of 10.5%? You could do better in the stock market most years! Occupational therapists make 11% profit, optometrists 12.2%, dentists 15.4%, chiropractors 16%, and CPA offices 17.1% (according to the same study linked above.) When your veterinarian gives you a discount, anything more than 10% is out of the pockets of the staff and the vet because they care about your pet. If you pay with a credit card, anything more than 8% takes money out of the staff’s pay (because the credit card company takes about 2%). If you pay with CareCredit, the card company takes 8-12%, essentially all profit, so now your veterinarian is caring for your pet for cost.
Money Has Nothing to Do With It, the Vets Just Want to Push Tests and Medicine (Products)
Ah! This is an interesting barrier. Veterinarians are taught to perform diagnostics and prescribe medicine (products). I believe people want a doctor who communicates the big picture, who asks where a family is coming from and tailors the discussion to the family. Education- explaining the terms- explaining the test results- explaining what medicine can and cannot do- are important, essential parts of the consultation. Many people do not feel they are getting this kind of consultation from their veterinarian. You can address this directly by bringing your written questions to the exam and consultation. Scheduling a phone discussion or another face-to-face if you are busy or the vet is busy. Remember, you are paying for 20-30 minutes of doctor time when you see the vet. Maybe 5-10 minutes is face-to-face. Be sure you get your time, and offer to pay for an extended consultation if you need more time because you are not as versed in medicine and terminology as other people.
If you seek herbal medicine, holistic medicine, acupuncture, etc, be sure to ask the receptionist when you book the appointment. Do not be disappointed that a doctor does not offer “non-doctor” services like grief counseling or pet massage therapy; set realistic goals for your veterinary appointment. You should always ask for referrals or resources for services you need that are not provided at your animal hospital. Chances are they can help you.
“I Did Everything the Vet Told Me to Do and My Pet’s Not Any Better.”
I find this is rarely true. Be honest with yourself. Did you do the recommended tests? All of them? Did you return for a recheck? On time? Were you able to give all of the medicine? Did you give the vet feedback when things weren’t working so they could strategize a new plan for your pet?
Now, if you have followed directions and you are being told the same thing at every recheck and your pet still has bad skin, or ears, or a limp, or constipation, then your veterinarian is not taking the mental time to think about your individual situation. I would call and tell them you need more. They will either start thinking or refer you to a specialist. If they do neither, then find another veterinarian.
A good veterinarian will provide you with the following information at a visit (and ask for it if it is not forthcoming):
- Problem List. The vet should check with you about what are the major problems you are seeing. Basically, they should address your concerns!
- Diagnosis or working diagnosis. (After testing if needed.)
- Treatments and nursing instructions and an honest conversation about the practicality of the instructions for you)
- Prognosis. How likely is the problem to be cured or controlled?
- How long until you start seeing results? What should you see?
- How long until cure? Or is cure a reasonable hope?
- How many more steps along the way to a cure. 2? 10? What?
- Exactly when should a follow-up consultation occur? Will there likely be more tests or a medication change?
- Is the condition we are treating zoonotic? (Precautions to prevent friends and family from catching a disease)
- What are the side-effects of treatment?
- What should we look if things are worsening and we need to come back in sooner?
Listen to Your “Gut”
Too few people in today’s world follow their intuition. If you have a gut feeling your veterinarian doesn’t care about your pet one way or another, leave. Otherwise, you will not communicate well with a person whom you believe doesn’t like or respect you or your pet. If there is a team member you think doesn’t like your pet, ask to speak with a manager or the veterinarian (if that person is the manager). That is a training issue and the veterinarian will be happy to address your concerns and learn your feedback for good team training. If that problem does not resolve through training or rescheduling, then you may have to leave if you have a strong negative feeling.
If you believe there’s a solution, there is, one way or another. It may be a new cure. It may be a clearer path to resolving a long-term problem. It may be a spiritual awakening where you realize your pet must move on, but finally you can feel confident that you are making the right decision. All are good outcomes, as long as the path we follow is right for you and your pet.
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Emerse yourself in positivity! Two years ago, Doc Truli started writing inspirational pet medical stories to provide an online source of information and inspiration about pet health care and medicine. We are all here for our pets, we owe them the best life we can provide!
Attribution to: Bayer HealthCare LLC, Animal Health Division, Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study income statistics and the link to the study (above) (These data are copyrighted by Bayer and can only be shared with attritbution)