Ask Questions & Make Informed Choices

Question:
I am writing to you to vent my frustration toward the excessive fees charged by veterinarians. We took our pet for a routine annual physical and were charged $206.01. (For my last physical, I paid $135.75.) Today, we took her to have her teeth cleaned and paid $276.08 including a ten percent senior discount. (Mine cost $100.46.) Why you see fit to charge more than even we humans pay is beyond me. I am, candidly, beginning to question whether all of the new recommended tests are necessary or are just a means of increasing income.

Dr. Nichol:
You’re right; medical care is a major expense. Research has given us more diagnostic accuracy and some astonishing cures but it doesn’t come cheap. I’ve struggled with providing state-of-the-art medicine while keeping fees affordable but advanced training, new equipment, and drugs, added to the costs of running a small business (insurance, rent, and wages) increase every year. It’s reached the point where not everybody can afford the very best.

You could shop around for low fees but most committed pet owners would rather maintain a trusting relationship with a veterinarian who explains recommended procedures in plain language and who doesn’t mind discussing a lower cost alternative. It’s part of our job to help our clients make informed decisions.

It’s tempting to cut the expense of diagnostics. Sometimes a doctor’s hunch is correct but if treatment fails the pet gets sicker or the behavior disorder worsens. The best practice, whether for humans or animals, is “evidence-based medicine”. In other words, diagnose first and treat second.

Comparing medical expenses between species is difficult. Unlike us, pets need general anesthesia for dental procedures. And, since they can’t complain in a human language, their ailments are often advanced by the time we see them. On the other hand, surgery and cancer treatment are bargains compared to the total cost for the human versions.

The business models are different too. Veterinary medicine is subject to the forces of a free-market. Insurance companies have no influence on our decisions or our fees. We work directly for animal owners. Medical ethics dictate that we recommend the highest standard of care but the choices are all yours.