Comparing Prices Between Vets: What To Consider

Vets are businesses, and like any other their prices will vary. However, it’s very hard for the average consumer to understand what the price of any specific procedure means.

Here I’m going to help you, not by giving you the answers, by giving you the right questions to consider. Sometimes the difference will be due to the pricing policy, but often there are other factors at play.

Is It The Same Procedure?

Probably most examples of dramatic differences in prices are in fact a case of comparing apples with oranges. 

You will see here, using liver disease as an example, how I showed you I could have treated the same problem six different ways with remarkably different end prices. All options were correct, as long as the client knew what they were choosing, and what they were potentially missing.

A classic modern example is the difference between cruciate ligament surgery procedures at different clinics. Here it’s not just about the very different procedures, but all the ancillary treatments and tests that go along with them. The end result can be prices that go from $1500-$8000.

Like always, at each end of the spectrum, there are big differences that the consumer should understand. Rather than just thinking: ‘it’s the same thing only cheaper’. 

Is It Done To The Same Standard?

In a user pays system, it’s quite reasonable for a vet to choose standards that reach an acceptable price point. There’s not a simple case of one global standard for anything. The fussier we get, the higher the price will go.

Of course, this is much harder to judge. The easiest example would be the difference between the same procedure done by a general practitioner and a specialist. When I discuss doing TPLO surgery for example, I always make the comment that a specialist is very likely to do the job better, just because that’s what they do all day. It doesn’t mean my standards are poor, but I have to be realistic too.

There are a lot of tests or treatments in any case that one vet might consider unnecessary, the next optional, and the third mandatory. For example, I know plenty of vets who consider an ultrasound to be essential before surgery for an undescended testicle. I do not and therefore my standards are open to criticism. 

Is It Regular Hours Or After Hours?

I’ve seen a lot of criticism from vets of the prices at emergency clinics, and it’s true that they are very steep. However, people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones. I don’t see the same vets offering the service themselves.

I hope that a lot of the fees go into the wages of the vets and nurses offering the service. It’s often a thankless task. Although most are genuine emergencies, a fair proportion of what is seen has been left to the last minute, and gratitude is in short supply. This is probably why it is increasingly hard to find vets willing to provide the service.

When we need our vets to be available in the middle of the night, we just have to accept that it’s going to be pricey. The only other option is no service at all. There’s already a lot of South Australia for whom this has become their everyday reality.

Is The Vet Part Of A Corporate Chain?

There’s been a lot of corporate bashing, and who doesn’t love a bit of that? However, the reality is that the corporate vets are not the problem. In fact you could argue that they are part of the solution.

The most expensive vets I know in Adelaide are independently owned, not corporates. That’s because the business owners have decided to set their prices that way, and it’s their right to do so. Additionally, the only clinics I know who pay their vets a commission based on sales are independently owned. I don’t know of any corporates that do this.

You hear talk from whistleblowers of what goes on inside corporate meetings, but it’s a bit like better dog food regulation: at least you hear about it. Big organisations are unlikely to be able to keep secrets for long.

To be fair, the corporates do seem to be priced on the high side, and they aren’t much good at offering ‘on the spot’ discounts for charity cases.

Is The Vet Mobile Or Bricks & Mortar?

It seems self-evident that you can’t compare mobile services to fixed veterinary clinics, but I still need to say it as journalists seem to be missing this obvious point.

It’s not just a case of mobile vets being cheaper because they don’t have all the overheads. I want you to consider the opposite: perhaps you should be paying for the overheads. That’s certainly my opinion.

I can tell you from the days before I started offering ultrasound that I never seemed to find many cases that needed it. Before I used dental radiography, I didn’t miss it either. When I worked in the UK, where dental disease was too widespread to fix more than a small fraction, I didn’t notice anything except the very worst cases.

In these examples, it was a case of not seeing the value in doing something that I couldn’t or didn’t offer. Of course, in all three cases I was very wrong.

Unless the mobile vet is directly employed by a bricks and mortar clinic, my view is that many of their patients are being under-serviced. Not because they don’t want to lose business or send the client somewhere else. Just because it’s human nature like it was for me.

Are You Comparing Estimates To Bills?

Another big source of contention is the difference in the estimated price of procedures. I have run foul of this myself many times in both directions.

I try very hard to set an estimate that will exceed the final price. This of course means that my estimates might appear high when compared, and this has certainly happened even when I fully expect the final price to be the same.

The other side of the coin is when I make an estimate for dentistry (especially in a cat) and find after dental x-rays that the mouth is actually a disaster rather than a simple scale and polish. This can turn a $370 procedure into $1000 or more. Not everyone understands what has just happened.

Having The Best Vet Experience

At the end of the day, there’s always going to be a gap between the information you need and what you can actually get. People who try to second guess veterinary decisions often end up being paralysed by information overload. There is no worse source of pet health information than public online forums.

The gap in high quality information can only be filled by trust, and for this you need a vet you’re comfortable to work with. We’re all different, and there’s a vet for everyone. Once you do this, life gets a lot less complicated for both you and your pet. 

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!

Andrew

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