ABC aired "Is Your Veterinarian Being Honest with You?" on 20/20 Nov. 22.
A 20/20 report that aired on ABC Friday night has the veterinary community sounding off. The report, “Is Your Veterinarian Being Honest with You?” features former Canadian veterinarian Andrew Jones, who alleges that some veterinarians pad visits with what he claims are unnecessary services and treatments—such as an annual teeth cleaning—saying dentistry is the ultimate veterinary “upsell.”
Veterinarians and technicians are responding. They’re taking issue with what they feel is sensationalized reporting, a message that could prevent pets from getting recommended care, and the image it creates of the veterinary profession.
Marty Becker, DVM, who is featured in the piece, says he is “shell-shocked” after watching how his responses were used. “To see my enthusiastic, honest and proud efforts to promote veterinary medicine and optimal healthcare tarnish the profession in the eyes of some makes me sad,” Becker says in an e-mail to dvm360. “To think that the segment might cause some pet owners to delay or neglect pet healthcare and that the pet would suffer as a result of that makes me sick.”
From private practitioners to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), many in the veterinary profession are disappointed with 20/20, to say the least. Here’s how people are reacting to the segment, which—as of Monday morning—was the fourth-most-popular clip on hulu.com.
Marty Becker, DVM
Becker, who was featured in the 20/20 report and has had a working relationship with ABC for the past 17 years, says he agreed to an interview about how to choose a great veterinarian, the importance of preventive care and how to save money on pet care without shortchanging your pets. He says the nature of the interview changed when he arrived in New York and he was left in the dark regarding the tone, title and content of the piece. “I didn’t know details of the show such as the Canadian vet they featured, that it was going to be a ‘gotcha’ kind of show, that the show was going to have other segments such as bartenders that shortchange you on drinks—even the name of the show.”
He says he spent 90 minutes on camera talking up the veterinary profession. “When asked a bunch of leading questions about veterinary care, I felt my job was to stand up proudly for and defend a profession that I’m proud beyond measure to be part of. Honestly, I left the interview feeling I’d done a really good job for ‘us’!”
However, after watching how his responses were used, Becker was left abashed. “I fired off a really pissed-off message to the producer.” The response? “Well, I owe you one.”
Becker is currently trying to decide if he wants to work with ABC again. He says colleagues have told him severing the longtime relationship—including numerous appearances on Good Morning America—may not be worth jeopardizing the opportunity to talk about the great things happening in veterinary medicine.
Becker is now trying to turn the negative into a positive. “It’s allowed me to bring all my guns to bear on these issues,” he says. “It’s getting people talking about preventive care and early diagnosis even though I’m a bitter part of that.”
He already has more interviews lined up in response to the report. He’s scheduled to sit down with National Public Radio and others to get his message out. “It will be in my words, not someone else’s edit.”
To read more about Becker’s thoughts on the 20/20 report and interview, go to dvm360.com/becker2020.
Jeremy Campfield, DVM
Campfield shared his thoughts in an e-mail directly to dvm360. “Every veterinarian in the world should be outraged by the idiocy of this television network and the disgruntled alleged veterinarian they chose to highlight,” he says. “Both should face lawsuits. I am disappointed that a reported DVM would so blatantly make statements that will likely do more harm than good in advancing pet health or pet owners’ relationship with their veterinarian.”
Campfield says those who truly do care about the veterinary profession and patients have every right to be outraged. “We should believe in the medicine that we practice and not be ashamed if practicing excellent, compassionate medicine actually turns out to be profitable. We deserve it, and our patients and clients deserve it even more.”
To read the full response, go to dvm360.com/campfield2020.
Ernie Ward, DVM
Ward says that, contrary to the segment’s title, it was 20/20 that was being dishonest with pet owners. “These sensationalist segments prey on the most fundamental fear of pet parents: Am I inadvertently harming my pet loved one?” he writes on his blog at drernieward.com. Ward takes issue with the claims and credibility of featured former-veterinarian Jones, who says in the segment that veterinarians use the “C-word” (cancer) to upsell clients. “I will never agree that advocating for diagnosing a suspicious growth is an ‘upsell’ or unnecessary. I’ve seen too many cases in my career where pet owners have waited on a lump only to discover too late it was malignant,” Ward writes.
Ward also notes that one dog featured in the story could potentially have a serious issue in her mouth. “When the vet is examining the pitbull mix Honey’s gums, she plainly has a growth above her upper right upper fourth premolar,” he says. “It’s probably a benign mass, but it’s hard to diagnose from a television screen. Honey, if your owner is reading this, I encourage you to get it checked out, regardless of what 20/20 says.”
Ward says he’s honored to call himself a veterinarian. “I know our profession has people practicing in ways I don’t approve. I also know we’re a long way from the used car salesmen 20/20 and ex-vet Andrew Jones make us out to be.”
Jessica Vogelsang, DVM
“Look, I’m not going to tell you that every vet in the world is equal and that everyone follows the same recommendations every time, but if you think that was the real point of this piece, you’ve been duped,” Voglsang says on her blog Pawcurious. “Citizens of Oz, let me show you the Wizard.”
She says Jones, the veterinarian featured in the 20/20 piece, isn’t a champion of the poor and underserved or fighting to educate pet owners. The former veterinarian runs a for-profit website. And offers a “free” DVD—which, after 30 days, generates a monthly subscription fee for his site. “You know me, I don’t normally get this upset, but MAN, my hide’s a little chapped right now. Greedy vets? When’s the last time I’ve asked you for a credit card in order to peruse my website?”
Vogelsang also took issue with Jones calling dental cleanings the “would you like fries with that” of veterinary medicine. Vogelsang, as well as Ernie Ward, DVM, noticed an oral mass in the dog used to illustrate Jones’s claims in the report. “By all means, continue to compare me to a kid at McDonald’s,” she says. “In the meantime, you may want to get that looked at.”
Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT
“This is not a news story; it’s a news spin and probably the most shameful, irresponsible part is that the producers began with the title and the outline then secondarily went in search of the spurious facts to support it,” Halow writes on his blog at halowtassava.com. He says it’s especially frustrating to watch what he deems a sensationalized, polarizing and paper-thin would-be exposé on the veterinary industry.
He says: “Fellow veterinary professionals, you are not this story, but let it remind you of the power of digital and national media to communicate an idea, however untrue. For an industry that has been traditionally timorous about talking itself up, the time has come to work collectively to give a global voice to our laudable stewardship of the animal-human bond. There are very few people in our world that invest the kind of time, emotions and heart in their jobs as we do. That’s the story that 20/20 should have told and now it seems its up to us to do it for them.”
Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (dentistry)
Byard says that while the journalism and reporting provided by 20/20 were shameful, the reality is that pet owners are going to be worried. “It always boils down to trust and our ability to retain that treasured respect,” she writes on the Veterinary Education and Training Resources blog. “This is going to be confusing for them. It would be confusing for me if this had been a story about the recommendations that my personal physician made. What if the story had been titled, “True Confessions: Colonoscopies! Anesthesia Every 5 Years to Look Where?”
She says veterinary professionals need to embrace the fact that clients will now be more worried and apprehensive. “We need to listen to them and be conscious of the fact that they want to be the best guardians of these pets they can be and they do want the best for them,” she writes.
Byard says that what clients need most from veterinary teams right now is compassion, understanding, empathy, confidence and an openness to their concerns. “Maybe we should send ABC and Disney a thank you card,” she says. “They opened up a very important conversation!”
American Veterinary Medical Association
“We were disappointed in a number of things, not the least of which was the fact that they did not use our statement as provided,” the AVMA posted on its Facebook page Friday night after the 20/20 report aired.
The AVMA statement, also posted on Facebook, reads as follows: “A thorough examination and the recommending of veterinary services based on that examination are the basis of good medicine, and they are designed to produce the best care for a specific pet. With the recommendation of the veterinarian, it is ultimately the pet owner’s decision on what services to provide for their pet. Establishing and maintaining a relationship with a veterinarian will assist in this decision-making process.
“Veterinarians are seeing an alarming increase in the incidence of preventable conditions such as diabetes, obesity and dental disease in pets. A regular visit to your veterinarian is the best medicine when it comes to preventing illness, catching minor health concerns before they become major issues and ensuring a happy, healthy life for your pet.”