ITV's Tonight programme broadcast last night portrayed a veterinary profession in which overcharging is commonplace.
Researchers for the programme took three healthy animals (a cat, a dog and a rabbit) to a number of different vets, telling them that the animals were off their food. The advice they were given varied. In the case of the rabbit from no treatment necessary, to dental work under general anaesthetic.
TV vet Marc Abraham then looked at each animal and told viewers that the correct advice in each case would have been the least expensive.
The programme also highlighted the substantial savings that pet owners can make by buying drugs online, and questioned whether the penalty meted out to a vet that had committed malpractice was sufficient (the vet had been struck off for 14 months, where presenter Jonathan Maitland argued it should have been for life).
Veterinary business consultant Mark Moran said: "So often, vets rely to a large degree on what owners are telling them, and the degree to which they insist the animal is ill, or off its food, will affect the advice and treatment given. Marc Abraham had the luxury of being presented three animals that he knew to be perfectly fit and well."
However he agreed wholeheartedly with the response from RCVS President Jill Nute this morning, that the thing both vets and pet owners need to learn from the programme is "the importance of communicating with each other".
Mark said: "It's a question of managing people's expectations. There'll always be a variance in the advice being given, but being up-front and open will help mitigate the risk of being accused of overcharging".
Click here to watch the programme. Click here to read the reactions to Marc Abrahams' blog
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I agree with a lot of sediments here. An hour of recording for then just a few minutes of the RCVS interview to be show. I guess it's to be expected with media using what they want.Perhaps a written statement would be better as is often the case with larger organisations?
I personally have had rabbits whose teeth have looked ok on auroscope but who are still not eating well and GA has revealed problems I could not see.
History is alot of our job and to bring animals in with a person who lies about the history is a little unfair- we don't actually see how well the 'act' is played out.Did that lady really lay it on heavy about the off food rabbit? And if we hadn't taken such a case seriously and the animal had died from ileus we would be up in front of RCVS asap!
I am personally writing a letter of complaint to ITV and looking into whether off com should be involved because I feel that strongly. I find it a slap in the mouth when the only 'nice' comment is made right at the end. I shall remember this programme next time I postpone dinner to perfom a c section late in the evening with a sad shake of my head!
At the end of the day there's cowboys everywhere in whatever profession- there probably should not be but it happens. It's a shame that it brings down the whole profession at what is to become i potentially finacially challenging time.
You took the words out of my mouth, David Badger! (well in all honesty, I could not have put it into words that well!) Well said! It was highly disappointing that the RCVS Lady didn't pick up on the fact that the 'owners' were at best not very honest and we have to be able to trust THEM just as much as they want to be able to trust US!
Sadly, this programme gave the viewers just what the director wanted, a sensationalist view of a profession that, in the vast majority, performs a difficult task with honour, honesty and dignity. While we all know that to be true, it is regrettable that consumers do not, necessarily, know that and will inevitably be influenced to some extent by what was portrayed.
Yes, Marc Abraham had the luxury of knowing that each animal presented was healthy but the other responses were not always that clever, if we are to be honest. It was unfortunate that, one imagines, in the edit suite, some of what Marc said sounded critical of more than just the tiny minority of vets but he/we should have expected that. As in any cross section of society, there will always be some who push too hard and we all know that the reputation of many is, in real terms, being damaged by a few practitioners.
Pet insurance is the key to a robust and successful veterinary profession but so many practitioners fail to recognise that they need to support it too - regular year on year, double digit growth in veterinary charges to insurers is a reality and we will price premiums out of reach of everyday pet owners if we are not careful.
It seems to me that the veterinary profession has not, of late, managed its overall PR or external relationships in a particularly convincing way. These programmes are designed to catch out the unwary and, as a profession, there should be widespread awareness of these media traps. It doesn't seem that officers of veterinary associations have been properly media trained, and equipped to deal with this type of exposure. The need is paramount for the profession to present a single, confident front with proper training in communication skills and to mount a constructive offensive to address the reputation and standing of a still noble profession whose outward persona is being eroded in this manner.
The whole programme got my back up from beginning to end. As has been rightly pointed out, client / patient history is the most singularly important factor in deciding the approach in treating or investigating a pets apparent ill health.
We did not see how the animals were presented to the vets in question. If i was presented with an owner claiming there pet had been off food for several days and yet appeared bright in themselves i would be a fool to dismiss this as nothing to worry about and even more likely to be hauled up in front of the RCVS if the pet had subsequently developed serious morbidity or indeed died.
I am certainly not the first to throw the textbook at everything that walks in, but as more clients are demanding a better standard of care this does involve better work up. what is the point in medical advances if we are to be hand tied to using them only when all else fails.
The reponse to the questioning by the RCVS on the programme was unsurprisingly limp wristed and gave the profession i hold dear very little support.
Owning a pet is a privilege NOT a right, and as such people need to be prepared for the emotion and financial burden of ownership. We are not the NHS. We are a private profession no different to private health care and we should charge in an appropriate manner.
We have pet insurance for a reason and every pet Owner in todays climate should take this opportunity. Insurance companies will always whinge that we are overcharging / over treating / over investigating because by the nature of the beast they don't like coughing up. Animal health care plans are likely to have more claims per life time than say humans, simply because we are not subject to the life style of the average pet. the majority of the population do not crash through undergrowth, chew on bits of dead god knows what, eat socks and knickers for the hell of it, or jump from fence to roof top to get a good sun bathing position.
I could go on. But for gods sake. As a profession we need to grow a spine and stand up when confronted in this way.
How much does it cost to have a lawyer's time ? A client of mine paid more for frontline online than I charge over the reception desk with an opportunity to chat with the receptionist or nurse thrown in free.How many holidays expected by your local doc?
Publishing Editor: Arlo Guthrie
Clinical Editor: Alasdair Hotston Moore MA VetMB CertSAC CertVR CertSAS FRCVS
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