Here’s another entry born of an email response to Monday’s post on how to identify quality in veterinary care. This time, it’s related to my comment on the issue of compassion in veterinary medicine––particularly with respect to high-priced, technically savvy hospitals where concern for the owner’s pocketbook takes a back seat to what’s best for the pet.

The suggestion led one emailer to ask (and I paraphrase): “Is technical prowess inversely related to compassion?” In other words, she wanted to know why the more sophisticated hospitals filled with specialists, interns and millions of dollars of equipment always seemed so rough when it came down to these issues:

  • Charging.
  • Offering options.
  • Taking pets away.
  • Getting callbacks.
  • Visiting hours.

And yeah, it’s generally true. A greater degree of impersonal interaction is to be expected at larger referral hospitals. These are not your regular veterinarians (and their staff) who know practically everyone who walks in their door. These are veterinarians who seldom get to see the same owner twice. And, as such, they don’t usually list "hand-holding" in their job descriptions.

Therefore, they won’t be calling you more than once a day. They won’t be allowing you to hold your animals or otherwise kowtow to your special requests. Visiting hours are limited. You will almost never be allowed to participate in even the least invasive procedures. That’s just how it goes.


Specialists and the staff of a specialty hospital are there for one good reason: You need more technically sophisticated care. And that means their organizational structure is geared towards better patient care...not better customer service.

Now, this is not always the case. There are plenty of secondary and tertiary facilities that pride themselves on their "compassionate care" towards its human customers. But that’s not the norm. And it’s absolutely secondary to their primary well it should be.

What is it they taught me in business school about “core competencies”? Stick to what you’re good at. Improve on the areas in which you offer the most value to your customers. And don’t sweat the other stuff as long as you’re really good at what your clients come to you for.

But not everyone agrees. This is especially true when it comes to the financial aspects of speciality medicine. If they can’t offer compassion in the form of a variety of financial options for advanced care, they can’t possibly achieve their mission when it comes to helping animals.

I see both sides––especially with respect to the finances. The other stuff? Phone calls, visits, bedside chatter? I can live without it. Not so much when it comes to a hospital that CAN help me find financial solutions for saving my animal’s life...but doesn’t have the bandwidth to do so. Sure, at some point the money’s just not there and euthanasia’s the only option. But when a middle ground is possible and hospitals require an all-or-none approach...that’s where I balk.

So yes, it’s true. Sometimes technical prowess does seem inversely related to compassion. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And now that the specter of competition looms larger in specialty care, we’ll see how that translates into homestyle animal hospital compassionate care. It’s another one of those things they taught me in business school: Competition is good for the soul...and for the customer, of course.