I am so pleased to have another guest post from the remarkable Dr. Nancy Kay, DACVIM, of Speaking for Spot. Her book is a tremendous aid for all those aiming to be a true pet advocate, and she as always gives advice that is compassionate, helpful, and above all spot-on. Stay tuned to the blogathon for a chance to win your own autographed copy!
If you don’t want to take the chance of not winning, Dr. Kay has graciously agreed to donate $5 for every book purchased to Bradyn when purchased through this link.
Price Shopping: To Be Avoided at All Costs
I recently exchanged emails with a woman who was feeling frustrated while searching for a new veterinarian. Her search included some “fee shopping” and she was disgruntled to find that some vets had the nerve to mark up lab fees more than others. She wrote to me to find out how she might gain access to the fees charged by commercial veterinary laboratories so she could figure out how much mark up each veterinarian applied. She mentioned that she’d found one vet she really liked, but she was “out of the running” because her office charged double the lab fees (exact same test) as two others she’d investigated.
Here’s how I responded. I encouraged my email buddy to consider reasons why fees are not uniform from hospital to hospital. In some cases, laboratory testing is run “in house” requiring on site technician time and costs involved in maintaining equipment. Certainly fees for this should be higher. The expertise a veterinary specialist brings to interpreting laboratory test results may be greater than that of a general practitioner. Shouldn’t a client pay more for this?
Additionally, every clinic must pay its overhead to continue to provide good service, and the more “bells and whistles” the hospital has, the higher that overhead will be. For example, if the hospital employs sophisticated equipment to monitor anesthesia, that’s a really good thing, right? Chances are, the fees for surgery there will be higher in order to cover the costs of this advanced level of care.
I went on to explain that I truly discourage people from price shopping when it comes to veterinary care unless it is an absolutely necessity. A sweet six-month-old Labrador is currently being treated at my hospital because she sustained a horrific thermal burn all along her back from a faulty heating pad used during her surgery at a low cost spay/neuter clinic. This has necessitated major reconstructive surgery over her back- a tremendous price to pay both in terms of money and what this poor dog is going through.
By the end of our email thread my correspondent seemed convinced- she told me that she’d decided to use the vet she really liked in spite of more expensive lab tests. Hurray!
I realize that for many folks these days, price shopping is a financial necessity. When this is the case, I encourage them to do the following:
- Do your best to avoid sacrificing quality of medical care. The old cliché, “You get what you pay for,” is often true. Be thorough in your investigation: don’t make up your mind based on brief over-the-telephone price quotes. Visit the clinic, tour the facility, and meet the staff to feel confident this is a place you and your pet will feel comfortable.
- Watch for “hidden” fees. Some clinics may offer an extremely reasonable quote for a surgical procedure, but then charge additional fees for the initial office visit or for post-surgical necessities like removing stitches.
- Keep in mind the potential for complications. If a significant complication occurs due to substandard care (such as occurred with the Labrador mentioned above) you will end up spending a great deal more money treating it (not to mention associated emotional energy) than you would have spent at the better more expensive clinic to begin with.
When you chose your veterinarian, were fees a consideration? Please share your experience.
Dr. Laci says
Great article with very good info for pet owners!
Annette Frey says
I never price shop for vets! I spent a not so small fortune on Lambchop, between his Ehrliciosis, RMSF (and we live in Manhattan), Addison’s, 3 plasmycytomas, pancreatitis and renal failure (I’m sure I’m forgetting some – oh yeah, CCL surgery for one), we went with the best care to treat everything. Although the CCL surgery was a success, I could’ve found a surgeon who wasn’t such as ass after putting Lambchop into ARF by giving him Deramaxx when he was on much higher than usual doses of prednisone for his AD post-op! Whew!
Anyway, we never price shopped, but we could have shopped for that one surgeon with a conscience! That can be just as important than the $$.
He never even responded to doing this to our dog!
Aside from that traveling surgeon, all our vets were and are amazing!
Two Little Cavaliers says
Great reminder of why we need to be careful when choosing a vet. Hope you are able to help the poor baby and make her pain free. Poor puppy 🙁
julie g. says
What a great blog topic! I’ve had a foster dog (somewhat hospice situation) for over 9 months now and I am ‘price shopping’ now, as the higher-end clinic (oncologist on site, etc.) where she initially was taken by the shelter was no more professional then my local vet. Unfortunately, the ‘local’ vet doesn’t offer all the services of the other clinic, but they (2 vets) DO offer to listen to the client and consider different options. Cost for experience is the 2nd main reason the dog is still a foster (rescue pays for meds, visits, etc.) instead of my adopting her…although I will be her forever home. (#1 reason is cost for daycare, but that’s a completely different topic)
Another price-shopping consideration for me has always been meds – while ‘interviewing’ for a vet I’m looking for someone who will write a prescription for medicine (that is available at drugstores, clubs, etc.) versus telling me I have to buy the drugs through them. Talk about price differences in many cases. Previous vet could not believe what I could buy the drug for (Cephalexin) at a local store instead of through him – he actually called the store while I was there to confirm it was true!
Thanks for guest blogging and for letting me vent! 😉
Great information for the pet owner. So many think that price is arbitrary, but it really is (most of the time) based on the level of service. The better the care and service, the more it can cost at times, but aren’t our pets worth it? Mine are 🙂
Kim N says
The one thing we didn’t plan for in moving to NC was the vet costs (because NC State is right there and produces tons of qualified graduates who stay in the area). It was a shock at first but now I wouldn’t have any other way!
I have great vets! They all have been wonderful. Poor Dr Utz has been the one to do the unplanned final visit on 2 of our dogs. Bless his heart! He is so compassionate. But I’ve found that Xander like our female vet the best. He barks at the men. LOL!
A bit of a different perspective from me since I work the front desk (oh wait, I’m a client services specialist ;)) at an animal hospital and deal with the “price shopping” calls all the time. I can blame folks for trying to get the best deal they can, since the economy is so bad, but when it comes to health, whether our own or especially (in my opinion ;)) our pets, that’s NOT the time to price shop. That is the time to turn to those you trust, friends, family, co-workers to see who THEY go to and why. If you don’t have that great option and you HAVE to base it solely on phone calls, make sure you are comparing apples to apples and not to oranges. Our hospital is not the least expensive by far, but we are worth every penny. Our staff cares, from the owners to the doctors, from the front desk to the technicians. We really DO treat your pet as if it is our own. And that’s just not something you’ll probably “pick up on” via a phone call. If you’re calling somewhere to get vaccine prices, and are told they’re free (not our hospital ;)), there IS a catch, so ask them what must go along with the free vaccines…guarantee there’s something else there. If you’re calling to compare spay/neuter costs, find out about the MUCH NEEDED pain medications that should go home with each and every spay! Find out WHY IV fluids are so important, and WHY a preanesthetic panel should be done, even IF you think your pet is just fine. There’s a reason the prices are the way they are, it’s for quality care and the well-being of your pet AND you. Trust me, I don’t know anyone who is living high off the hog in the veterinary field. Okay, rant done. 🙂
Yikes, I guess I tend to use too many emoticons! (stopping self from using one right now)
Jana Rade says
I don’t mind paying more for more. But I do have to note that our vet provided us with service superior to other places we went to and yet their fees are more reasonable.
I believe that cost should not be the main deciding factor one way or another. Higher fee might not get you better service and lower one might not get you worse one.
julie g. says
LauraAndRudy, I am price shopping but NO WAY would I do it over the phone – that is just wrong on so many levels (as you wonderfully pointed out). But I do want to say that many of the folks who greet you a the door don’t know why the IV may be more expensive, etc…unlike yourself 🙂
I could never work in a vet’s office as the clients would drive me nuts. 😉
I went with a classmate’s recommendation (even though I barely knew him, a personal recommendation always seems worth pursuing over nothing else), and he’s amazing. I don’t really care if there are more affordable vets, because he is THAT good. If he could be my doctor, I’d be there in a heartbeat!
I’m fortunate that my vet is also cost-conscious – he will respect and understand your budget/income level and help you work within it when possible. I never feel like he recommends anything that’s unnecessary, and I know he has my dog’s best interests at heart.
My primary vet is one of the more expensive ones in town, but I know I’m paying for a state of the art veterinary hospital, well trained staff, and knowledgeable, caring veterinarians. That being said, there have been times in the past when, for financial reasons, I have taken my pets to a clinic I know is cheaper (but still not the cheapest!) However, when I was “price shopping”, I was sure to ask questions about what anesthesia was being used, how much experience the surgeon had on exotics (it was for my ratties) and whether the price quoted to me included pain medication. I’m glad cheaper options exist for those who simply can’t afford it, but I’m also incredibly grateful that for the most part I haven’t had to “price shop.”
My cats’ vet is one that was highly recommended, both by friends and on Yelp. She’s not cheap (I spent around $1500 in a couple of months treating Stein’s glomerulonephritis before he ultimately had to be put to sleep) but she’s fantastic, and so are her office staff. It’s worth it!!
Fortunately I haven’t had to use a vet for Moose yet, but he is due for his vaccs pretty soon here, and I’m not concerned about price as much as finding a good vet and building a good working relationship w/ them. I’m also planning on getting him insurance that covers major medical and mortality once I get paid for some photo jobs I did, so that way it takes much of the cost factor out of the equation should a major medical issue arise.
My only requirement when choosing a vet is that they like my animals. I had a vet who really didn’t like Chewy, even though she was only a 4 month old puppy at the time. The whole visit she sighed and rolled her eyes, and then told me in a very snotty tone at the end that Chewy was going to ‘be a problem’ and that I needed to ‘get her trained.’
What brought this on? Chewy was licking the vet all vet all over her arms because that’s just how she shows affection. She got training, she’s a great dog… she also still gives a lot of kisses. I see nothing wrong with that.