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November 30, 2012

Affordable vet care?

One of the most interesting conversations I had at London Vet Show was about affordable vet care. There is a lot of talk in the profession about making recommendations for best quality care and maximising compliance with the recommendation. Offering clients choice is the right thing to do. We can’t make assumptions about affordability and some clients will want to pay for the best treatment, food or preventative healthcare for their pet, even if it means going without personally. A vet told me recently of a client who insisted on paying a significant sum for her pet chicken to have major surgery, despite the fact that her home – where she lived with her disabled son – was on the point of being repossessed. You might have an opinion about that but it was her choice.

What my London Vet Show delegate contact was concerned about was the fact that many clients were no longer being presented with a choice. His assertion was that many vets took as read that any ill pet should come in for bloods, imaging and a full work-up. We’re not talking about anything more here than best practice and in this litigatious climate, who can blame any vet for covering all the bases? But this vet claimed that clients were coming to him having sold the telly, the car and most of their personal possessions, having scraped together their last few pounds and were asking for veterinary intervention of a more ‘back to basics’ nature. It got me thinking that maybe that made sense: Tesco does it, Asda does it, even posh Waitrose has budget offerings tailored to match customer needs in recessionary Britain. Adopting the budget business model is never going to be straight forward – veterinary profits are already stretched. Should vets settle for a lower standard of living in order to offer a basic, minimal margin service and is that even going to be possible given future student debts? By going down this route are we selling the profession down the river, or simply adjusting our offer to better fit with the zeitgeist?