Exclusive DVM Survey: Client demand fuels spike in complaints to state boards

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?

Table 1: Compared to the past, how often do consumers complain to state authorities today about the delivery of veterinary care?
An exclusive DVM Newsmagazine survey reports that 64 percent of veterinarians believe consumers complain more frequently to veterinary state boards today than in the past (Table 1).

Table 2: Consumer complaints filed against DVMs with state agencies
That isn't far from reality, according to follow-up telephone interviews conducted by DVM Newsmagazine editors with 50 state regulatory boards (Table 2).

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.

Table 3: Pennsylvania disciplinary sanction history
State-agency data obtained by DVM Newsmagazine shows a steady rise in the number of complaints and disciplinary actions leveled against veterinarians from fiscal year 1998 to FY 2007. The decade saw nearly a 12-fold increase in the numbers of sanctions (Table 3).

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".)