Letters to dvm360: Most readers think saving Burpy was the right thing to do

August 10, 2019

The tale of a veterinary associate who performed surgery even though the client couldnt paydefying corporates directive to euthanizeelicits strong opinions.

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander

Editor's note: The following letters were submitted to dvm360 in response to a recent “Old School, New School” column by Jeremy Campfield, DVM: “A great Great Dane dilemma.”

I own my small-town mixed practice in Wyoming. I deal with a lot of owners who do not have up-front cash. I took an oath and have strong compassion for the welfare of the animals I have the pleasure of helping. I tend to treat now and relieve the pain and suffering and worry about the money later. Yes, I do get shafted somewhat regularly, but I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I euthanized an otherwise healthy animal over money. Most people do make regular payments on their bill. I do understand “no credit” policies; I just can't do it myself.

Dr. W.D. (Buck) Root

Riverbend Veterinary Hospital

Douglas, Wyoming

 

This was a young dog and an old client who always paid her bills eventually. What else could Dr. Seasoned do? Be callous and euthanize a young dog?

I am a practice owner and I let the circumstances dictate what I will or will not risk regarding treatment and extending credit. Of course I have sometimes been burned. But the satisfaction of helping a client and their pet in need is priceless. I will also give good clients on limited income a break. One more reason to stay out of the corporate scenario where it all seems to be about the money.

Sophia Kaluzniacki, DVM

Green Valley, Arizona

 

Dr. Seasoned absolutely did the right thing. The business equation that's lacking in Mrs. Sterns' decision-making toolkit is one that assesses risk of:

  • Not being paid

  • A negative medical outcome

  • Negative word of mouth that trashes the reputation of the practice …

versus …

  • A successful medical outcome

  • Getting paid for services

  • Positive word of mouth that creates corporate reputational capital that can be leveraged.

In today's climate, something is going to be spewed all over social media by hysterically emotional Mrs. Giant no matter the medical outcome. What (risk-averse) Mrs. Stern does not appreciate is that clients frequently still pay their bills and gush praise about a veterinary practice that does everything possible to save a pet-even when the effort is unsuccessful. Historic bill-paying behavior is a good indicator of what is likely to continue in the future. This is the basis for a credit score.

Nice job, Dr. Seasoned.

Suzanne Parsel-Dew, DVM, MBA

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Of course Dr. Seasoned did the right thing to think of her patient as an animal with feelings rather than a moneymaking widget. I am certain that most if not all “old school” veterinarians would have done the same thing and have performed similar services multiple times in their practice careers.

The current state of our once great, respected and compassionate profession truly sickens me! The No. 1 focus of the majority of today's practices is to increase the financial bottom line. When I graduated from The Ohio State University 50 years ago, our one and only business course was this: “We have given you the best education possible. Now go out and use your knowledge and skills to practice the best that you can. Treat every client like you would want yourself and your family treated. If you do this, you will have a very rewarding life and more business than you can handle.” Those statements proved to be prophetic for me and my “old school” classmates.

Today's new graduates have received numerous business courses teaching one common goal, which is how to maximize profits and increase practice revenue. I recently attended a CE business lecture where the summary message was (and I quote), “If you want to increase your bottom line, increase all of your charges 15% across the board. You will lose approximately 5% of your clients. However, you will make more money and will work less hard.” How pathetic is that for our “service” profession!

My suggestion to all new graduates is to take a step back in time and reflect on why they originally wanted to become a veterinarian. Most likely it was because they wanted to help animals. If that was their feeling then, they need to question what happened to those feelings now. So many pets today go untreated or are euthanized because owners cannot afford today's prices.

I seriously wonder why many of our younger vets chose veterinary medicine over an MBA and career on Wall Street. Ironically, had they done that, they might actually own their own corporate practice today rather just be a corporate employee with practice ownership financially unattainable.

I am blessed to have something that no one can ever take away from me and that, sadly, I think most millennial veterinarians will never fully enjoy. I have a lifetime of warm feelings and memories of helping many pets and owners. This is why I wanted to become a veterinarian. Practicing the “old school” way has given me great financial rewards, but it has also enabled me to reap benefits far more important and satisfying than any financial compensation.

John C. Harroff, DVM

Concord, North Carolina

 

This story is the reason I left corporate practice. They try to use “good medicine” to bolster their bottom line, charging for unnecessary items or services. We were always understaffed and had a leaking roof and old broken equipment. All of our profits left our practice to pay the shareholders rather than being reinvested into the clinic.

There are numerous threads online with vets talking about the dangers of corporate practice to your soul. I understand the need to be paid for services (I own my own practice), but with a longstanding good client, exceptions need to be considered. Otherwise this could lead to burnout or suicide, which is a growing concern in our profession.

Name withheld

 

Burpy gets my vote! Why did we go into veterinary medicine? Especially with regular or longtime clients who have supported us well over the years, we have a moral and ethical obligation to serve their pets. I don't know how many times in my 51 years of practice I have heard pet owners complain to me that their regular veterinarian refused to provide care because of finances. Almost all followed through with payment. There were options then and there are options now: CareCredit, held checks, sometimes just charity depending on circumstances. Any employee of mine who “convinced” a regular client to sign a euthanasia consent with a resolvable condition wouldn't be there very long.

Michael Brown, DVM

San Diego, California

 

In my opinion Dr. Seasoned was being reckless. She does not own the practice; she does not have the right to decide the dog is going to surgery without the practice being paid. Certainly she should encourage Mrs. Giant to find, beg, borrow or steal the money-use CareCredit; use all resources-but ultimately, if she gets denied, why would I give her credit at our practice? I think this borders on stealing money on Dr. Seasoned's part.

Dale Paley, DVM

Spartanburg, North Carolina