Following my entry late last week on rising costs in veterinary care, I received this commented question: Is it a veterinary responsibility to educate clients about pet health insurance and other ways in which they can meet their financial obligations to their pets?

Here’s a snippet of the exchange that followed Are Your Veterinary Costs Rising? Who Do YOU Blame? (copied verbatim from the comments section):

I'm not sure...

by wickets on 05/06/2011 08:31am

why you have to defend price increases for they pretty much are a fact of life, but its really a shame that vets are so slack in their educating the customers about pet insurance and other types of payment schemes

reply by Newfie Mom on 05/06/2011 11:34am

Do you expect your human doctor to educate you on health insurance? Or is it your responsibility to research the options? Veterinarians are educated to provide health care, not to help their clients figure out how to pay for the their animals. That said, every single veterinary clinic I've been to in the last 5 years has brochures available on pet insurance. Seems to me that they're going above and beyond their duty.

reply by ASDMarlene on 05/06/2011 03:51pm

I agree it would be good if maybe the receptionists would discuss financing of vet care with their clients, explaining options, encourage people to look into pet insurance and so on. More pets may get healthcare that way and it could increase business for the clinic if people feel that they can have some kind of choice when it comes to being able to afford veterinary care. A big cost factor are medications and many pet owners do not know that they could ask for a script or get medicines online with their veterinarian's prescription. When they find out, they feel betrayed, it would be better to give people a choice, do you want to buy from us or do you want a script. I have met so many pet owners who resort to giving their pets inappropriate medicines because a trip to the vet for a problem cost them more than they can afford, if they could get the medicines for less money, they would have more funds to take their pet to the vet again for other problems, but if they feel it always costs them more than they can afford, the vet and the pets all lose.

I don't try to take away the profit my vet makes, but at the same time I need to find a middle ground so I can afford the visits.

Interesting issue. What is the veterinarian’s responsibility in introducing pet health insurance information to the patient’s caregiver?

I’m of two minds on this issue:

One half believes that anything I can do to reduce the frequency of so-called "death by estimate" (AKA, financial euthanasia) and relieve other obstacles to superior healthcare is absolutely my responsibility.

The other says I go above and beyond already when I actively bring this product to the fore during my wellness discussions (puppy visits, mostly). It’s the owner’s responsibility to fulfill their financial obligations to their pets.

To be honest, I side more with the first half of me, rendering my math somewhat sloppy, but you get what I mean. It’s not so black and white. Take the pet owners who’ve been to our hospital exactly twice in as many years:

The first time kitty’s leg had been mangled. It got amputated to the tune of $750 or so. We’d talked about pet insurance back then. The second time he was blocked (as in complete urinary obstruction). Which almost got him euthanized. Keeping costs at their barest, he was ultimately saved for $450. Saved for now, anyway. Because urinary obstructions tend to recur.

In this case I met my obligation to mention the product, even so far as to reference the brochures in the waiting room. But I didn’t impress upon my client that pet insurance was a potentially life saving tool; that future emergencies should be considered; that paying for a pet was a big responsibility.

Sure, so that goes above and beyond, perhaps. But here’s what I keep coming back to: When it’s the pet who wins or loses, does it really matter where the responsibility lies?

What do you think?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Lupe at the vet by Kara Reuter