Are Vets Losing The Trust of Pet Owners?

Today (Oct, 2009) the BBC will broadcast the results of a K9 Media inspired vet fees survey. The results highlight the – sometimes massive – range of fees being charged for ’standard’ procedures. As much as £100 difference in the cost of a standard neutering procedure, in the SAME county! I believe the vet fees  hot potato is not going to go away any time soon. As pet insurers increasingly aim their fire at vets for performing ‘un-needed procedures’ on animals who are financially protected and more and more pet owners exchange information on the huge variance in medicine costs, we have to ask: will the vet fee issue lead to an erosion of trust? And if so, what can we do to stop it?In tonight’s BBC One ‘Inside Out’ I explained my fears that pet owners may begin to second guess their vet’s recommendations on treatment. This would be a disaster. Let me explain why and how I think it could happen.

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I take my dog to the vet for treatment on a lump that has suddenly appeared on her leg.

My vet gives me some medicine and cream and tells me to come back in two weeks.

I do. The lump is still there.

I see a different vet. This vet says they’ll have to operate as the position and feel of the lump gives concern for cancer.

Now, I obviously agree – without hesitation. I pay for the surgery. I pay for the cost of the biopsy on the removed lump. I pay for the after care. I’m £700 down.

My dog’s on the mend and it suddenly dawns on me; why was I recommened the cream in the first place if the position and feel ‘needed’ surgery?

If the above sounds like a far fetched scenario, think again – it happened. Not to me. But it happened.

Now, let’s take a look at price variance.

Why should/can one vet charge £4.00 for a Drontal worming tablet and another charge £5.90 for the EXACT same pill? Same dosage, same brand, same pill. Why?

Well, I can answer my own question, why – they can, because they can.

Vets are a small business. Fact. They are a for profit enterprise. And I am the LAST person on earth to advocate vets become anything other than innovative, entreprenurial businesses. Where my problem lies is in the fact that there is a groundswell of diquiet amongst a significant number of pet owners, upset, confused at how and why they got charged £300 for a neutering procedure whereas their neigbour got the EXACT same procedure done for £100 less with a vet down the road.

If we find ourselves becoming cynical or second guessing our vets, we’re in trouble. More to the point, our pets are in trouble. We need absolute complete trust in our vets. And I believe a way to achieve this is by a standard, national veterinary invoice.

The invoice would NOT standardise charges. It would NOT prevent vets from charging whatever they see fit for the services and products they offer. What it would do is legally compel ALL vets to declare exactly what their customers are paying for.

So if a neutering operation was charged at £300, the invoice would list:

– Cost of labour
– Cost of anesthetic
– Cost of dressing
– Cost of drugs

I would like to see vet drugs sold at a standard, recommended retail price – so if it’s a medicine that I can only get on prescription, I would like the price to be the same for that drug whether I use a vet in Nottingham or Nottinghill. A margin for the vet can still be built in to the retail price, if a vet wanted to retail the drugs above the national recommended retail price, then it should be declared on the invoice along the lines of (Sold at £0.35 above RRP).

I don’t mind paying it, but I want to know EXACTLY what I’m paying for. I want to have the power of comparison. I want to be happy that – should I want to – I can shop around for a vet who works at a lower hourly rate or a vet who operates a ‘RRP policy on all pet medicines’.

I don’t want restrictions, I just want transparency. I want them same level of disclosure from vets that I expect from the garage who services my car, because although I acknowledge the main dealer will charge me 35% more than the garage in my town for parts and labour, I am happy in the knowledge that I can at least do a side by side comparison of both providers and make an informed decision on who to use.

British vets are some of the best in the world. We should be very, very grateful to have such a depth of skilled professionals to care for our pets. All we want is more clarity. There are vets who fleece owners for every penny. They are, fortunately, the tiny minority (and let’s not overlook that) – well, fine! Let them. But let’s have a national vet invoice that means we can pick apart the precise elements of our bill and choose our vets accordingly.

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