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Friday, August 24, 2012

Beware the Corporate Vet!

My friend Kathryn is a veterinarian at a clinic in a small town far, far away.  When I told her I was looking for a "backup" clinic for our dogs here in  rural Montana, she shared some juicy "inside" information with me on the trend toward corporation-owned vet clinics.

"Steer clear of the corporate clinics," she said.

Oh no, I thought.  I'd just established a relationship with a slick multi-vet clinic in Sandpoint, 70 miles away, primarily because they offered emergency vet services that I couldn't find locally.

Kathryn grimaced when I told her.  She said, "The clinics that have been bought up by major corporations are really focused on profits and quotas.  They push services you might not really need."  Like annual dentals and blood work for every procedure.  It's marketed as "preventive medicine," with the idea that it will SAVE the pet owner money down the line (much like mammograms and colonoscopies for humans).  But....

"If you're a vet in one of these corporate practices, and you don't sell a certain number of dentals every week, for instance, you get called into the office and counseled."

Oh!  My!    Mind you, I have known some independent vets who push services a la carte, and end up selling a lot more stuff to a client than they can pay for (or than they need).  I've never cared for that approach.   But in the corporate world, we're talking about a structured strategy to financially drain the pet owner for the sake of clinic profits.  It makes me think of sleazy car salesmen who have to run back and forth to "the office" to get approvals for the deals they're cutting.  That's now how I want to think of my wonderful vet!

"They [the corporate vets] lay a guilt trip on the client," Kathryn says.  "'You really need to get Fifi's teeth cleaned,' or 'You really need to have this blood panel done.'"  And more clients, she says, tip over immediately because there's no limit to what they'll do (or spend) on the family dog or cat...whether it needs the procedure or not.

Think of yourself (I think of myself) in a vet clinic.  We're so in love with our pets that we become 100 percent vulnerable to the sales tactics of the vet clinic.  We are putty in their hands.  We're afraid to refuse a procedure or test because we may be labeled as uncaring and heartless.  After all, if the vet says we need it, then we need it.  This is a blatant misuse of the doctor/patient relationship, which should be built on trust and honesty, not on corporate profits. When was the last time you asked, beforehand, what the veterinary procedures of the day would cost?  Chances are, you went into the exam room, glassy-eyed, full of love for your pet, and ready to accept whatever bill they presented you when you checked out.

If you think about it, this is the same problem we have with human health costs.  We trust our doctors, we trust our insurance companies, and we know the bills will get paid, by someone or another, eventually.  So we accept our bills without question.

We can all save money these days by educating ourselves about procedures and maladies, and becoming informed patients/clients.  Corporations don't just own vet clinics; they own hospitals too.  If we become more responsible for our own health and our own medical bills, and if we get estimates and explanations up front (before procedures are done), our medical costs--for humans AND pets--will probably go down... a lot!
Is this the heart and soul of your veterinary clinic?

Kathryn told me to look for names like "Banfield" and "VCA Antech" prefacing the names of veterinary clinics. Those are only two of the big ones; there are more.   That, she said, is the indication of whether or not they are corporation owned.  So, for instance, our local "Thompson Falls Veterinary Clinic" would be listed and promoted as "Banfield Thompson Falls Veterinary Clinic."  Fortunately it is NOT.  An independent vet (and independent businesswoman) owns our local clinic and thus is able to operate it the way she wants, rather than fall in lock step with a corporation edict.  Same thing, apparently, with the multi-vet practice in Sandpoint (70 miles away) I use as back-up.

Yakima (where many of my blog readers are) doesn't appear to have any corporation-owned clinics either, nor does Missoula (my current "big neighboring city.")  But Spokane and the Tri-Cities do.

These corporate clinics aren't inherently evil.  They do stress preventive care, and they do have good, licensed veterinarians.  They'll take care of your dog.  But just beware that they will also attempt to sell you services you may not truly need, because they are required to do so by the corporation that has them in shackles.

1 comment:

ShelleySays said...

I just found your blog. I too write one about good and bad companies and general info, but I wanted to comment on the corporate vet hospitals.
I go to one which was just a simple, but excellent vet practice in the earlier days.
I still love the drs there and would take my dogs to see anyone of them. I can decide for myself what I think is really necessary for my dogs and don't get caught up in paying for way more than I need. I think we, as clients, have a right to ask as many questions as we can before committing to any additional procedures or tests.
I do like your blog.