Wilson: We keep talking about the veterinarian. The truth of the matter is that it isn't just the veterinarian, it's the veterinary
staff. It's the entire experience at that place. One of the biggest problems I see is related to inadequate staff training,
staff longevity or staff who don't have the same level of empathy as maybe their doctor. Often these are underpaid veterinary
staff who can't afford to pay the bill themselves. Because they could never afford to pay it, they wonder how clients could
afford to pay that same kind of bill. We have to stop talking about the veterinarian. We've got to talk about the veterinary
experience, including the entire aesthetics and the staff, staff training and staff attitudes.
Verdon: Has the veterinary profession responded adequately to changing consumer expectations? I wonder if each of the panelists could
offer his perspective on practice, and whether it's true for technicians, state boards and veterinary schools?
Flanigan: Any time a study was done between what the veterinarian thought the public wanted and what the public wanted, there was a
disconnect. There's an ongoing, long-term disconnect between consumer expectations and what veterinarians believe consumers
Wilson: One of the toughest things our profession is facing is defining standards of care. It's such a moving target. We found this
out in Minnesota.
What is the standard of care in rural Minnesota vs. urban America? From secondary-care centers to primary-care centers? I
thought I understood it as a veterinarian with a law degree and a lot of experience. The truth of the matter is that only
recently have we begun to develop "guidelines," as we call them. We have guidelines for parasite control. We talk about guidelines
for pain management. So we finally have guidelines that in court will be interpreted as standards in all likelihood.
But what we finally are now beginning to coalesce is what's expected of a quality practice. AAHA, AAFP — I give them a lot
of credit for trying to develop some of these standards. I think that the more we can do that, the more we can hold the veterinarian
more accountable. The problem becomes, at what point does it become the standard? As soon as 52 percent of the veterinarians
use pain management on every declaw, does that become the standard of care? Or is it when 60 percent of veterinarians do that
in practice? We're talking about what's applied out there in practice. Well, if 60 percent are within the standard of care,
then 40 percent are below it. How do we communicate to the veterinarian what that standard is that is getting more in tune
with what the clients are perceiving or are seeking out there? It may be a standard they're hearing about off-handedly from
other pet owners.
Timmins: We need to pay attention to the Internet, too. The guidelines that you're describing are available to the general public.
The expectations for clients, no matter if they're in a rural or suburban community or urban America, are going to start to
coalesce as they begin to become aware of these guidelines. I think we're making a positive step by establishing the standards,
and I'm very excited to see that we have pain-management standards. AAFP came out with recommendations to care for the senior
cat. We have more guidelines that our clients are going to be familiar with, which means the veterinarians need to be familiar
with them, too.
Flanigan: I'd agree that the consumer is much more educated and exposed to what those standards or expectations are. Usually through
the Internet, they can find some source that will support their beliefs, whether it is a standard or not. Unfortunately, it's
assumed that if they found it on the Internet, it must be true and that is what the standard is. As people use that tool,
they have higher expectations. It is important that a veterinarian go to continuing education, and is aware of what is in
the industry and what expectations consumers have of them.