It’s all about trust and confidence in your veterinarian
by Dr Enid Stiles, Sherwood Park Animal Hospital
So I am sitting here, anticipating what I know will likely be a lot of hype after tonight’s Market Place show. I don’t know what they are going to say and if the previews are any indication, it should be TV at its best. And that is exactly what it is, TV. My friend and colleague has already been quoted out of context on the preview. That is media for you. Sensationalize things to the max for better ratings.
But I am not writing this blog to talk about TV and media. I am writing to give you my take on what is important to me.
I often think about my experiences with my dentists. Maybe you have gone through a few dentists in your lifetime, or perhaps you have stuck with the same dentist you had since you were a kid. When my husband and I changed dentists a few years ago, we did it for 1 reason: we needed a dentist closer to where we lived (the drive downtown from the West Island was becoming a trek!). It was only when we started seeing our new dentist that we realized we were not as happy with our prior one. So what did it come down to? We felt more comfortable with our new dentist. We liked the way he gave us options, discussed the science and medicine behind his recommendations and explained that ultimately what we did was OUR CHOICE. That kind of discourse was somewhat lacking with our old dentist.
For us, being treated as knowledgeable clients and having a choice was what was important.
If you think about the important professional and trusting relationships you have, who do you think of? Your GP, your pediatrician, your dentist, your optometrist, and hopefully your veterinarian. That trust may not happen with the first GP you go to (of course in Quebec, we don’t really have much to choose from!). It may take a few trials before you find who you are comfortable with. Choosing a veterinarian has to do with what is important to you and the care of your pet. Perhaps you like a health professional who is straight-forward, to the point and you simply want them to tell you: what can I do to make my pet healthy? For others, it may be more a question of cost, and you are willing to drive an extra 30km to save 10$ on a vaccine for your dog. For them, cost savings from visiting a particular vet are more important than the time or travel costs involved. For some people, it’s ok to drive the extra 30km despite the cost to see a vet they prefer because “she/he gets down on the floor with my dog and gives him kisses for real”. That’s what is important to them.
Some dentists ask for annual radiographs, others don’t. Why? For some, it is because they have had their own professional experience that led them to make that recommendation. Perhaps they had a few cases where the one year they didn’t do a radiograph was the year when they missed a serious condition, a condition that could have been prevented or dealt with earlier had they done that radiograph. Once bitten twice shy. The same thing goes for why one veterinarian may recommend annual heartworm testing versus another who recommends it every two years. They are fearful that if they miss that one case, they are responsible for a disease they could have prevented or treated easily if diagnosed early.
Ask your veterinarian why he/she is making a particular recommendation. Maybe they are truly concerned that if you don’t have a vaccine due annually you will choose NOT to come in for your annual exam. And that annual exam for your pet may be critical not only for the health of your pet but also in building that trust and relationship with your veterinarian, and potentially reducing future costs for more critical treatment. The patients that I see every year, I KNOW them. I know the kind of care they want for their pets and I have built a knowledge base on their dog or cat: that little lump we measure every year, that heart murmur we are monitoring, that little problem with weight we are trying to deal with.
The recommendations your vet makes are built on their experiences. I will use myself as an example. I don’t always recommend the same medication or first line treatment as some of my colleagues. I have had cases where certain medications, time after time, did not work the way I had hoped. So, my first-line recommendation may not be the same as my colleagues. For instance, I will always recommend a brand-name veterinary product before I recommend a generic. And yes, generics are often cheaper. So why do I recommend brand name veterinary drugs for my patients? My 2 top reasons (and there are more than these): First, I believe in R+D (research in development) which can only continue if we support pharmaceutical companies, and second, I have seen in some of my cases that generics did not perform the way the brand-names did and I had NO support from the generic companies (which I DO get with brand pharmaceuticals). That is how I practice. Others vets may take different paths, and that is where differences between veterinarians will happen. A good veterinarian will discuss options with you so that YOU can make an educated decision that meets you and your pet’s needs.
Of course we have another upward battle, and that is that veterinary medicine is not subsidized by the government and so we have businesses to run. I wish it was subsidized. I wish I could do everything I wanted for every one of my patients, cost aside. This would be my dream come true. But, this is not the case. We need to pay our staff, pay for the diagnostic equipment, pay for the on-site pharmacy, pay for our rent, etc. We have to pay the vet or technician who calls you back with test results or simply to see how your cat is after surgery. We have to pay disposal of medical waste. All this is overhead we never see when we use our provincial MediCare card at the hospital. If you had to hand over your VISA card for your C-Section, you better believe you would have sticker-shock! And sadly, it affects our ability to practice the way we were taught in school. But we simply cannot do it for free and nor can your dentist or optometrist. In the end, even government subsidies would not answer all the problems because then we would fall into the trap that doctors are today, where our method of practice is dictated by government cuts.
Talk to your veterinarian. Build that trust. Have the discussion. Find the right fit for you and your pet.
Dr Enid Stiles is co-owner and practicing veterinarian at the Sherwood Park Animal Hospital in Beaconsfield Quebec. For more information please go to www.sherwoodparkvet.com, our facebook page or call 514-674-2004.