Are Veterinarians Obligated to Make Specialty Care Accessible?

Are Veterinarians Obligated to Make Specialty Care Accessible?

Gary Block, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Ocean State Veterinary Specialists

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All humans deal with gray areas and blurred lines, even at work. Although the ethical dilemmas faced by veterinarians and their teams may be unique, veterinary professionals are not alone. Welcome to Brief Community, a place to confront and discuss some of the difficult situations we all deal with.

The opinions expressed in the following blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brief Media.

As the veterinary profession has championed the idea of the human–animal bond, the pet-owning public has increasingly embraced quality of life for their pets, resulting in a proliferation of veterinary specialty care practices.

Diagnostics and enhanced care that were at one time only a standard of human medicine have become a gold standard for our veterinary patients, as well. As both pet ownership and standards of care increase in the United States, the number of clients who cannot afford advanced veterinary care when their pet becomes seriously ill or injured also rises. Charging for veterinary services rendered is necessary to run a viable business, but how should veterinarians respond to such clients? Many generalist practices have put payment plans or other options in place for clients who cannot pay in full, but are payment plans reasonable for specialty practice?

The very first sentence in the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics states that “A veterinarian shall only be influenced by the welfare of the patient, the needs of the client…and the need to uphold the public trust vested in the veterinary profession.”1 

Surely making specialty veterinary care available to as many pet owners as possible would acknowledge and honor this principle. As with specialty veterinary care itself, balancing what we can do and what we should do must be part of our practice philosophy—even when it comes to setting prices for our services. Setting prices that make veterinary care accessible to our clients while generating fair profit is challenging, but hopefully not impossible.

As a general practitioner, how do you handle referring clients with limited financial resources to specialists?

As a specialist, do you have payment options in place for clients who cannot pay in full at the time of their visit? 

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