I’m here, I’m loving Orlando, and I’m sick as a dog. Which stinks, to put it mildly. So, I’m focusing my energy on things like standing up and walking, but the posts will come. Make sure to check out Facebook and Twitter as well, where I’ll be posting lots of candids. In the meantime, I have a post about a topic we got into a big discussion about a couple of weeks ago:
I loved Dr. Becker’s recent article about whether or not vets should offer spays for below cost. His answer, in a nutshell, is “no”. Mine is too. The responses ran the usual gamut of those who agreed and those who did not, but it got me thinking about the whole idea and how veterinarians are often caught in the middle when trying to explain to owners why prices are the way they are.
Myth: If a low cost facility can spay a dog for $50, you should be able to do it too.
Fact: To understand how a facility can afford to offer a procedure for such a low cost, you need to know what they do in order to make that economically feasible. Do the vets volunteer their time? Do they skip items like intravenous catheters, inhalant anesthesia, or post operative pain medications? If it’s the choice between having it done and not having it done, many people are fine with that. But in my clinic, if I’m taking a pet under my care, I feel obligated to do the procedure as safely as I can, and that involves pricier things like blood pressure monitoring and post-operative opiods. That’s expensive.
Not to say some low cost clinics don’t offer those things- they might. But many don’t, and it’s good to know what you’re signing up for.
Myth: Low cost = poor care.
Fact: Not necessarily. In fact, most of the low cost places I know in our area staff their clinics with the best vets. You have to be a good surgeon to complete that volume of surgery in a short amount of time. Less experienced vets are slower in surgery. They just are.
Many of these places subsidize their cost through fundraising and grants. I worked at a clinic that accepted county vouchers for $80 spays, and also performed spays for clients for the real cost of $250. The pets received the exact same high quality care with gas anesthesia, IV catheters, and dedicated monitoring, but one group received a subsidized cost. It was a 24 hour clinic that utilized the downtime by having the vet do those subsidized procedures at 2 am when nothing else was going on.
Myth: Complication rates are higher at low cost facilites.
Fact: Not necessarily. I don’t know of any specific data to show this one way or the other. It’s not about the rate of complications so much as what happens if there is a complication. If a pet has an adverse reaction to anesthesia- something that can’t be predicted- does the facility have the staff and resources to provide emergency care?
When your pet goes home that night and chews out the sutures, who do you call? If your pet licks the incision and it gets infected, who covers the cost of the antibiotics? Much of the time, owners are on their own.
The truth is, low-cost facilities perform an important service for people who cannot afford the more traditional costs associated with such a complicated procedure. They do this in a variety of ways, and for that I am glad. But that doesn’t mean a traditional clinic can take advantage of those same cost cutting measures and still stay solvent. It’s comparing apples and oranges.
So who should pay?
The one continuing refrain I always hear in these arguments, and this is the one that really gets to me, is “vets owe it to the community to take a bath on pricing, because they love pets/overpopulation is a big problem/the economy stinks.”
Now, it’s nice when vets offer their services at a discount- and trust me, every vet I know eats costs left and right for things they really shouldn’t because we feel badly and want to help. But is it an obligation? Many children suffer from a lack of proper dental care, but no one seems to be beating up on their local dentist for not doing more (nor should they.) Grocery stores aren’t lambasted for not giving food away to needy families. It’s easy to point fingers at the obvious target when someone can’t afford what they need, but there is a limit to what any one person or business can do. If there are no profits, there is no clinic.
One emergency facility I worked at had a list in the office of places people could call to ask for financial assistance for their pet. As the vet in charge of the case, I was in charge of helping people fund their care. I spent hours helping people try to find funds, and nine times out of ten instead of being happy, those people would be angry that they weren’t getting more. I consider myself a compassionate person, but I have to be honest: over time this sort of thing can burn a person out. It just does.
Low cost spay/neuter clinics have their place, and they do good work. I am glad they are there. But I could do without the idea that the provision of veterinary care is a right to all owners upon request, and an obligation of the provider to give said care without expectation of being paid a fair wage. The burden of care, at the end of the day, must lie with the owner.
What do you think? Have you ever used (or those in the field, worked at) a low cost clinic? Think it’s equivalent to a standard clinic?