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The costs of care


National Report - Client expectations have increased over the last two years, according to 80 percent of veterinarians surveyed.

NATIONAL REPORT — Client expectations have increased over the last two years, according to 80 percent of veterinarians surveyed.

About the DVM Newsmagazine survey

Most veterinarians attribute the trend to client demands, access to better medical equipment and more veterinary specialists.

Half the veterinarians polled in an exclusive DVM Newsmagazine survey say most of their clients expect a higher level of veterinary care, while 30 percent of respondents say the increase is noted with their best clients.

Table 1: Who handles medical complaints in your hospital?

Almost all acknowledge that standards for veterinary care have increased over the last two years; 40 percent of them say the needle has moved significantly on quality standards.

Costs are climbing, too. According to 55 percent of veterinarians polled, veterinary costs are rising too rapidly for some clients. Another 27 percent believe fees are escalating too quickly for all clients, while the remaining 18 percent don't see rising costs as much of a factor either way.

Table 2: Is the standard of veterinary care in your area becoming more sophisticated?

These two trends, experts say, explain, at least partly, the increase in state-board complaints nationally (DVM Newsmagazine, Oct. 2007; www.dvmnews.com click on State Board series.)

If you factor out cases of negligence, most complaints are driven by poor communication.

Table 3: Compared to human health care, how would you rate the veterinary care delivered in your area?

Sue Geranen, executive director of the California Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, explains it this way: "Much of this is about communication. Consumers perceive there is something wrong, even if the veterinarian has done everything correctly. Sometimes veterinarians just get too busy to talk to clients and oftentimes it generates complaints."

When a pet owner levels a grievance against a veterinary practice, DVMs typically intervene to handle the hospitals' communication, according to the DVM Newsmagazine survey.

Table 4: What is your preferred method of communication in addressing a medical complaint?

Almost 50 percent of owners talk through complaints when they surface. On average, technicians handle 17 percent of medical complaints in the hospital.

Veterinarians employ multiple strategies to defuse medical complaints, including telephone conversations, in-clinic meetings, impromptu meetings at the hospital or written correspondence, respondents say. The most frequently cited approach to communication when a complaint arises was talking by telephone (28 percent). About 19 percent say they prefer to schedule an in-clinic meeting.

Table 5: How would you best describe client expectations about the veterinary care delivered by your clinic over the last two years?

When it comes to complaints filed with state boards, most practitioners know area colleagues who have faced a state-board inquiry, and most practitioners (57 percent) say they don't fear state-board intervention. Yet, 24 percent of owners say they do fear state boards, while 19 percent of associate veterinarians reported the same sentiment.

Veterinarians believe state-board investigations sometimes are justified. And 62 percent of survey respondents say their state board's activity level as a consumer watchdog is about right. One-quarter of respondents say their boards are not aggressive enough. Only 12 percent say theirs is too aggressive.

Fast Fact

If it's not intervention by a state veterinary board, what's the greatest fear for private practitioners?

In a word, money.

One-third of respondents viewed lack of income flowing into the practice as the single greatest threat to the veterinary practice. Another 29 percent say they believe financial pressure on clients remains the most serious threat.

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