The heart of veterinary medicine

A Q&A with veterinary cardiologist Stephen J. Ettinger, DVM
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Feb 01, 2010


Too much too fast: "The cost of ­services is becoming ­excessive," ­Ettinger says. "Better-quality ­medicine doesn't have to be the most ­expensive options." (PHOTO: MARK SAVAGE)
DVM: You've spent your career focused, in large part, on small-animal internal medicine and cardiology. What's new in these two areas of veterinary medicine that you think will be significant in the near future?

Ettinger: Both fields will continue to grow. There will be growth due to the nature of referral practice and referral medicine.

Also, there is a need in these fields of medicine, and in veterinary medicine in general, to continue to really respond to what clients want: better quality medicine and reasonable prices. They don't want make-believe stuff, nor are they seeking over-the-top care. The clients want good quality care, 24/7.

Ultimately, we're going to see pet insurance playing a role in helping to ensure that better small-animal medicine will be available. Look for pet healthcare plans to improve.

DVM: What advances are on the horizon for veterinarians?

Ettinger: Look for improvements in the overall quality of veterinary medicine. Academically, medicine continues to improve. There's an excellent amount of research and efforts toward one medicine — human, veterinary and public health. This move toward one medicine has made us a better profession, but we still have to make our clients know and appreciate this.

Watch for developments in the area of genetic medicine. Surgical techniques gleaned from human medicine also give us huge new opportunities. And we'll be exploring treatment of aging disease. It's a very exciting time in veterinary medicine.

DVM: Any trends or specific issues within veterinary medicine that may have a great effect on DVMs in 2010?

Ettinger: Nationwide, we are feeling the pressure related to the downturn of the economy. It would be neglectful and foolhardy to think we're over the economic problem.

Any practice will tell you it is down 5 percent to 10 percent. If you're down, and you've increased prices, you're down more than that. We can't be ignorant of the economy.

Veterinarians are going to have to offer better medicine in a more reasonable way. Some are already doing a wonderful job. Others are blindsided and cannot recognize the needs of the clients. We have to remember we are providing services to clients on an as-needed, as-wanted basis. We cannot be cavalier about that. What the economy has shown us is that people are not willing to pay ever-increasing prices.

Veterinarians will have to look at other ways of seeking payment for services without reducing — or increasing?— service costs. It will become more important to offer more payment options people can use. The cost of services is becoming excessive and beyond people's means. Better-quality medicine doesn't have to be the most expensive options.

DVM: As director of the California Animal Hospital Veterinary Specialty Group in Los Angeles, can you speak to how this operation is faring in spite of tough economic times?

Ettinger: To clarify, I'm currently the overall director of the 23 hospitals in the California Animal Hospital Veterinary Specialty Group. All of those hospitals reflect the economy in the area in which they are located. Those practices in stronger areas — Beverly Hills, certain parts of Los Angeles?— held up better than practices outside of San Diego and Palm Springs.

DVM: What business strategies will keep practices financially healthy when clients may have lost jobs or been forced to tighten their budgets?

Ettinger: Client communication is critical. Keep excellent medical records, and demonstrate excellence on your Web sites by making information available to your clients online.