When it comes to the client experience, there's no contest.
I recently returned from the 2012 NAVC, where the most common question attendees asked one another was, "What's new?" Everyone was looking for the buzz, the hot topics, the clues about what the year ahead would bring. This year I picked up on two themes: (1) An emphasis on prevention and wellness, and (2) a focus on the client experience. It's this second theme I want to explore a little bit, especially in comparison to what people experience when they visit their own doctors. As I see it, there are three significant ways veterinarians provide a client experience that's superior to what physicians offer.
1. Diagnostics are more transparent. When was the last time your doctor sat down with a printout of your blood work results and went over the findings with you? For that matter, when was the last time your doctor informed you of your results at all—without your calling the office multiple times only to get a terse "Everything was normal" from a nurse? For clinics that have embraced in-clinic testing, the veterinarian can discuss results in the exam room before the client has even left the building—something virtually unheard of in human medicine.
Diagnostics, whether in the form of blood testing or visual imaging, are crucial to understanding what's going on with a patient's health. Diagnostics are also expensive. When clients pay out of pocket for these tests, they need to understand exactly what they're paying for. But I think it's more than that. I believe veterinarians are more likely than physicians to engage in dialogue with clients and view them as partners in the healthcare team. Physicians are more likely to give unilateral instructions without context.
2. General practitioners are still looking out for the whole patient. Increasingly in human medicine, a patient's health is managed by a team of specialists who are focused on their own organ systems but not considering how their decisions affect coexisting conditions. One industry insider at NAVC described how her father had arthritic knees and a bleeding ulcer. When she asked the gastroenterologist about the implications of the ulcer on her father's NSAID prescription for arthritis, the doctor said, "You're screwed." No one was looking out for this man's overall health. In veterinary medicine, even when a general practitioner refers a patient to a specialist, the GP is still more likely to manage the whole patient and decide how to balance contraindications.
3. There's simply less arrogance and superiority. This is my opinion, and of course there are major exceptions on both sides, but I believe that in general veterinarians are more compassionate and humble than physicians are. There's a lot we can do to shore up the bond between pet owners and veterinarians, and much of the dialogue at NAVC surrounded exactly how to do this. But with this reality at the heart of the profession, there's a strong foundation to build on.