Musings of a Veterinarian

One Decision Away From the Frying Pan

April 02, 2014 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

The AVMA recently posted a story that gives me a sickening knot in my stomach. Find it here.

The summary of the story is this: A dog owner took her dog to the emergency clinic after she had been spayed that morning but her regular veterinarian because the dog was retching and her incision was bleeding. The emergency veterinarian believed the dog needed exploratory surgery and quoted the owner for the surgery and required half the amount as deposit. The owner had some money but not anywhere close to the deposit. She did not have a credit card. The owner and the owner’s sister were both declined Care Credit, a credit line for medical urgencies and emergencies. The veterinarian sent the dog home with a pressure bandage on her abdomen but the dog died overnight. The owner posted a grief-ridden post on Facebook that has been shared thousands of times.

A resulting maelstrom on social media has lead to death threats and harassing phone calls to the employees of the emergency clinic. And it affirms my feelings that we veterinarians are just one decision away from a social media lambasting that can forever affect our careers.

I understand both sides of the story in this particular case. I am not going to debate the virtues and faults of both sides in this post as nobody has enough information except the two parties involved. My own soapbox for pet ownership is well known but let me refresh you.

Pet ownership is a privilege, not a right.  When you decide to care for an animal you assume full responsibility for its care. I do not expect everyone to have the means to afford every treatment offered. It is highly unreasonably and irresponsible to expect someone else to foot your bill when you cannot afford the care recommended or required. If veterinarians discounted their services for everyone who had financial need, they would rapidly go out of business.

Veterinary medicine is a service AND a business. Businesses must make money to survive. Veterinarians offer many discounted services and have tens of thousands of dollars in veterinary care walk out of their clinics without a sniff of payment every year. It is horrible business practice to give away services regularly but we do it. While most owners are good for payments when extended a payment plan, many others are not. The appalled pet lovers are likely the ones who would have paid a bill if extended the credit. They don’t appreciate the concept of getting stiffed for an entire several thousand dollar bill. And until, as a business owner, you see how unpaid bills affects your bottom line and the ability to pay and you go through the arduous and oft times ineffective collections process – well – you just don’t understand both sides of the coin.

Every day practices are evolving to meet clients’ financial needs while providing the optimal care for the patient. Pets are property by law but have intrinsic value as living beings and family members and we veterinarians, more than any one else, understand this. It’s not a perfect system but most of the time payment plans and Care Credit make it work.

Soapbox dismount.

What concerns me most about today’s social media environment is angry pitch-fork yielding mobs can tear down a person or practice with little knowledge of the facts of the situation or the inner workings of a practice. And it’s all done under the anonymity of the internet resulting in some of the cruelest, foulest, uncensored vitriol posted for all to see. We veterinarians, as well as others in the public service field, have our reputations at stake and can potentially have them destroyed by one disgruntled client. It’s terrifying.

Have you seen this story about the veterinarian who committed suicide after an angry online mob drove her in to financial dire straights?

Every day I make the best decisions I can for my patients while working within a clients’ financial means. If I cannot achieve an outcome that jives with my standard of care, we have the adjust our approach to make it work even if that includes the option of euthanasia.

I fear for the future of good practitioners and public servants when it is so easy for information to pass from person to person without fact checking, intricate knowledge and understanding, and censorship. We will start to practice like we have one foot in the fire which will affect the practice, the client, and the patient. Everybody gets burned.

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