There was a piece on last week’s episode of ‘Today/Tonight’ which cast aspersions over the ethics of the veterinary profession in South Australia. The title of the show was “Vet Rip-Off’ and the basic premise was that owners are being over-serviced by vets. As you may imagine, I take offence at that suggestion and at some of the comments coming from the ‘financial advisor’ they had brought in to illustrate their point. However, it did raise some interesting points which I’d like to go through.
If you took the time to listen to the whole story, rather than just the first few minutes, they did make some interesting comparisons between corporate veterinary practice and privately-owned, independent vets. In fact, they went so far as to suggest that pet owners should consider seeking out locally owned practices for their pet health care.
I’d have to say that I think the advent of corporate practice in the veterinary world has generally been a good thing as it’s helped lift overall standards of care provided to pet owners. I don’t think anyone could accuse corporate vets of providing poor healthcare standards. The corporates do have their down-sides, however, and this is what is highlighted in the Today/Tonight story. The story also makes a valid point that ‘big’ is not always ‘better’ when it comes to looking after clients.
If you want a great local example of ‘big vs better’ you need look no further than the success of Gawler’s very own ‘She’s Apples’, a small, private grocer doing very well in direct competition with a major supermarket directly across the road. How do they succeed in that environment? The answer is by combining really good quality produce with employees that care what they’re doing!
So, back to vet practice and this reported over-servicing. The main points I’d like to address are as follows:
- As vets, we do not insist on costly and allegedly un-necessary tests on your pets
- Any recommendations we make are in the best interests of the pet
- Whilst we make what we feel is the best recommendation, we also discuss this with the owner and come to a joint decision as to diagnostic and treatment plans
- If the client is in any way uncomfortable with initial recommendations, we’ll always come up with a ‘Plan B’
- Our staff are incredibly ethical (they wouldn’t be working here if they weren’t) and would never perform tests they didn’t absolutely believe were necessary
- Although it’s correct that there is a $12billion per year pet industry in Australia, the vast majority of this is spent on pet-food and supplies in supermarkets, not because of the amount vets are charging for basic care, as implied in the story
- Veterinary care actually makes up a small percentage of the overall pet industry
- Vets are not taking advantage of pensioners or anyone else
- We treat all clients the same, regardless of their age, race, religion or financial status – to us, they’re all pet owners and so worthy of our full respect and care
- “You can’t put a price on love – this is a notion that those corporatising pet care are banking on.” Although corporates may have their disadvantages, that doesn’t mean they’re the devil!
- I know several of the vets who started Greencross back in 2006 – the first corporate veterinary group in Australia. They’re decent human beings and care very much about pets, just as they did when they were in private practice
- It’s a nonsense for the media to target an industry, just because the financial markets have identified it as being stable and sustainable and so a good investment risk
- As vets, we don’t have a Medicare or a BUPA to underwrite our charges and so clients have to pay our charges in full. This makes us an easy target by comparison with our medical and dental colleagues.
- I agree with the pet owner interviewed who made the comment that they don’t mind spending on their dogs but want to spend it on people who really care and want to do things for our pets and not just make money
- We’re all pet owners ourselves and fully understand how much pets mean to their owners. That’s why we enjoy helping them so much!
- “Once upon a time a dog with broken leg was treated with a splint. Nowadays, we’re seeing a lot of over-servicing and in many ways pets are being treated like individuals.”
- I loved this comment – is this ‘individual’ treatment seriously supposed to be a bad thing?
- Yes, absolutely, we treat pets as individuals – that’s what our clients want!!
- Splinting a fractured leg is a great example of a treatment which has long since been replaced with options that give better outcomes. We’re simply not going to make a substandard recommendation where we have much better alternatives.
- Recommending a high level of healthcare for your pets does not equate to over-servicing, in my book
- There may be advantages in seeing a small independently owned clinic
- In this case, I agree with the Today/Tonight message as I do think we can provide a more personal service than any corporate group
- Not only do we get to know our clients and pets much better, over time, but we can tailor our treatment approach based on the client’s wishes
- All of our clients know that they are able to approach us with any concerns and that they’ll be dealt with promptly and on a personal level
- We are 100% locally owned and both Dr Steve and I work full-time in the business. As long-term members of the community, we have a reputation to uphold – part of that reputation is in providing a service which holds up to scrutiny in all departments, not least of which is value for money.
- “Petcare business is booming but in reality veterinary practice is a tough slog with vets being paid much less than other professionals (with similar ability and training)”
- I’ve paraphrased this comment slightly but this is one area where the program hit the nail on the head.
- Contrary to public opinion, vets are poorly paid..
- If we were in it for the money, we’d have gone into medicine or dentistry.
- “Vets are often not good at business and will have to lift their game because corporates are going to make their lives a lot harder”
- The latter part of this comment is true, to a degree, but our friendly financial commentator also provided us with the solution. “Smaller practices need to come up with a competitive edge such as a more personal service”. Our staff members pride themselves on getting to know the clients and pets on a very personal level. Mind you, there’s nothing new under the sun here – good vets have been doing that that for a long time.
- By the way, just because we’re small, it doesn’t mean we’re bad at business, nor does it mean we don’t know how to look after clients!
The fact of the matter is that we operate in a free market environment. We understand business well enough to know that, if we don’t provide what clients want, we’ll soon have no clients left. Trashy journalists can say what they want but, in the end, the real litmus test for us is that clients continue to come in the door in increasing numbers and recommend us to their friends. That ongoing relationship between clients and staff is an indicator that our clients see the true value in our services.
If you’d like to discuss any of this, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to call on 8522 3500 or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.