Over the last few years a trend in veterinary medicine has taken place which is troubling for both the practitioner as well as the pet owner. The cost of veterinary care has increased dramatically rendering care nearly unaffordable in many situations. Though pet health insurance as well as “easy” payment plans have become more prevalent (Care Credit) it still is incumbent on the client to be able to pay for an ever increasing level of sophistication in pet care. What has led to this trend and how has it impacted veterinary care for the client as well as the doctor? In this two part post we will examine some of the issues surrounding this evolution..
1. “Corporatization” of veterinary medicine..
It would be hard for anyone to not notice in driving around nearly any part of the US the increasing number of veterinary practices that display the VCA logo. Though not the only player in these acquisitions, VCA has rapidly become a dominating force in the ownership of veterinary hospitals. As many vets near retirement, not having planned an exit strategy, practices become readily available for veterinary corporations to acquire. In some areas many or nearly all of the animal hospitals are owned by a single corporation reducing competition within a market. Without competition, there is less pressure to control prices.
2. Cost of veterinary education
The cost of four years of college plus the cost of four years of veterinary education has increased at an accelerated rate. Commonly new graduates begin practice with a debt that can approach the level of a home mortgage. Though veterinary salaries have not kept up with the pace of increase in educational cost, this has placed increasing pressure on practices to raise fees in order to compensate the emerging crop of indebted veterinarians.
3. Technology, technology, technology
We love it for what it can do for our lives but it is costly. In our moderately sized practice, excluding medical technology (radiology, ultrasound, etc.), we budget between five and ten thousand dollars annually for computer upgrades, IT support, website design and optimization, social networking, the list is endless. In our practice we do very little online advertising which can ratchet costs up even more. Obviously it enhances productivity and organizational capabilities with a cost that is significant.
4. “The Gold Standard” (as it is often called) approach to medical diagnosis and treatment. This is perhaps the single biggest contributor to the seemingly, at times to the pet owner, outrageous cost of veterinary care. I think that the profession could do much better at managing costs by carefully examining this approach to medicine. There are trends here that should be frightening to the pet owner. Because of the considerable expense of “sick” care, many pet owners need to skimp in the area of wellness care for their pets..
So what is the answer and how can a pet owner manage costs while maintaining a high level of care for their companions? We will take a look at that topic in the next post.