Exclusive DVM Survey: Client demand fuels spike in complaints to state boards
Serious sanctions flat, but officials cite Internet, increasing costs and human-animal bond as factors driving overall increase
Oct 01, 2007
National Report — When a medical case goes bad, consumers are more likely to complain to state boards than in years past, veterinarians report.
Is it a sign of the times, a symptom of increasing costs or another measure of the growing importance of animals in society?
Complaints against veterinarians are swelling, according to an examination of state licensing-board records. From the 37 states reporting to a DVM Newsmagazine survey, about 3,510 complaints were logged with state authorities last year — an increase of about 14 percent from 2005.
For 2007, the data are on track for another DVM record-breaker.
With the largest population of veterinarians (7,691), California led the list with 667 consumer complaints against veterinarians in 2006. Florida and Texas ranked second and third, respectively.
"People are getting more savvy; they are getting more knowledgeable," says Sue Geranen, executive officer of the California Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. While consumer complaints against veterinarians in California peaked in 2003 at 811, Geranen believes that complaints are on the upswing nationally.
"Most of the boards are on the Internet now; they are more high-profile than they used to be. The cost of veterinary care is also going up, so consumers will start paying attention."
In Pennsylvania, they already are.
While complaint totals remain just a fraction of the millions of animals seen and treated each year, the data signal a changing market dynamic.
Driven by an increase in veterinary-care standards, growing client expectations about the quality of veterinary services, the growing importance of pets to owners and escalating costs of care, the survey shows there is great distinction between a consumer complaint and a state-board action/sanction, which requires a formal investigative process. (See "Anatomy of a state board complaint".)