The next thing I wanted to mention is what's going on in specialty medicine in particular. That's clearly a focus of mine
in my current role. Overwhelmingly what we see at BrightHeart, but others report it as well, is that specialty medicine is
growing at extraordinarily rapid rates across the United States. The typical specialty veterinary practice is growing at a
rate of 20 percent to 25 percent annually. What this really reflects is the willingness and eagerness of pet owners to do
the best they can for the companion animal. We see average transaction fees at the general practice level anywhere from $150
to $200. In a multidisciplinary specialty center, they're anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 on average. It becomes even more
important for those involved in specialty medicine to articulate the steps of care to clients. Especially under tough economic
conditions, people want to understand all the steps you need to go into to spend that kind of money.
Verdon: So, what do the rest of the panelists think? Are consumer attitudes changing toward veterinary medicine? Dr. Wilson, your
Wilson: I believe that attitudes are changing, and so are expectations. People now have friends whose animals have been through specialty-care
centers, emergency clinics. They're also becoming aware of when they're not offered those kinds of options or are not accommodated
with respect to that level of care. That's when they become disgruntled clients. These clients are struggling. They are those
who are looking for some kind of recourse or voice against veterinarians. As a result, the courts don't work very well for
them because the pets are still property. And as property, there are minimal damages that one can gain from pursuing a legal
course of action. That leads us right to the state boards. Complaining to a state board doesn't cost the client anything.
But it puts pressure on the boards.
King: As far as consumer expectations go, there are two consumer groups. One group has increasing expectations about the care they
want for their animal, and the other is looking for basic bottom-tier care. Cost is the overriding factor. Consumers want
the best care for their animals. Those consumers want options, and they want those opportunities. They have high expectations
of success. When those things do not happen, it usually precipitates a complaint to the board of veterinary medicine, because,
as Dr. Wilson said, the legal process in the courts of recouping or penalizing or getting satisfaction is not going to meet
the needs of the consumer.
Wilson: What percentage of your complaints come from a much higher level of care vs. how many complaints are from that lower tier?
That's the tier we often forget about in terms of how much people will spend.
King: We're seeing more complaints from the consumer who has high expectations, wants high-quality medicine and has high expectations
to go along with it. Communication between veterinarian and the client is paramount. If that falls through or is not complete,
that's what brings on a complaint.
Flanigan: When we talk about changing public perception of veterinarians, we need to make clear that any changes that are happening
are from a position of strength for veterinarians. The public adores veterinarians. The fact that Gallup only includes veterinarians
once every three years in a poll for the professions that are most trusted for their honesty and ethics is a testament to
that. Veterinarians skew the curve. Every survey that's done that pits veterinarians against other professions shows that
veterinarians are well respected and are key influencers over decisions people make for their pets and farm animals. Whether
or not veterinarians believe it, they are key influencers in public policy and animal-welfare issues.
Rubin: One of the things I'd like to bring up as part of this question about consumer attitudes is this demand for more services
and growing public expectations. Some of the negatives are that veterinarians can lag behind the consumer in terms of their
willingness to offer and accept advanced care.
How many times have you heard: "Well, do I really need to do this, Doc? Would you do this for your own animal?"