Why 24 hour veterinary emergency care cost as much as it does?
Itís a question emergency and critical care vets and clients ask me all the time. And, in my experience, itís occasionally followed by angry accusations of profiteering and taking advantage of customers.
ďYouíre only in it for the money. If you loved animals you wouldnít charge so much,Ē is what I frequently hear.
The issue creates an extreme set of emotions in both pet owners and animal health care providers ó and itís easy to see why. Thereís not a consumer on earth who enjoys feeling as though theyíre being taken advantage of.
Veterinary emergency care providers, on the other hand, find few things more difficult than being accused of caring more about money than helping pets. Our staff is guided by a commitment to compassion, integrity, honesty and dependability. Itís very painful for veterinary ER care givers and I know some who have left the profession all together because they feel so demoralized by it.
The sad reality is pet emergencies are inevitable ó an estimated 92% of all pets will experience some type of severe emergency situation over the course of their lifetime.
Most of the comments that I hear about veterinary emergency delivery focuses on misconceptions around fees in general and why they cost what they do. First what I would like to explain how your fees are spent.
Clinical staff costs 60+%
To be up front, it costs a lot of money to provide 24hour/365day pet emergency care...168 hours a week.
The highest proportion (60%+) of of what clients pay in fees to VES goes towards paying, and training, our doctors, registered veterinary tech/nurses, and other clinic staff.
There are several reasons why staff costs are proportionately so high. For a start, VES must have at least one vet and one vet nurse/tech (as many as 6 in busy periods) on site at all times, regardless of whether any cases come through the doors.
Thatís just the unpredictable nature of emergency medicine.
Vets and vet tech/nurses salaries
Itís no secret that basic salaries for doctors and vet tech nurses are rising and, in turn, becoming an increasingly big part of overall expenditure in the 24/7 emergency businesses.
There are lots of factors behind this, but the main one is people who work unsociable hours tend to want higher pay than those who work Monday to Friday 9 to 5.
On top of that, there is also a recruitment crisis in the veterinary profession right now. There is a definite shortage. More veterinary graduates are female and frequently work shorter schedules and may choose shorter careers.
Despite all of this, veterinary care providers are paid far less than counterparts in comparable professions such as human medicine (even though they have studied for the same amount of time and often have equally huge student loans). Recently I have personally interviewed graduating doctors that have $300 to $450 thousand dollar student loans to deal with. Even at the low end of this, they will begin their careers with a $3,500.00 monthly payment for the next 10 years. Recognize that this is after at least 8 years in college and will be a minimum of 35 before they have the resources to invest in a home or business.
In over 45 years as a practicing veterinarian, Iíve never worked alongside anyone who is primarily motivated by money. The bottom line is doctors and vet tech nurses enter the profession because of their innate sense of wanting to care for animals and help their owners, not because they want to get rich.
Cost of running our clinics 17%
But thereís more to it than just ensuring there are adequate levels of clinical staff on hand to treat any pet emergencies that may occur. Because of the potentially complex nature of emergency veterinary work, all of our clinics must have a minimum level of medical equipment.
Most facilities like ours require minimal investments of near $3 million dollars. This includes property and building, ultrasound machines, incubators and oxygen cages, as well as endoscopes, blood analyzers and IV pumps. Also on the list of equipment our clinics must be equipped with are anesthetic machines, stretchers, microscopes and ECG and anesthetic monitors. Our fully supported laboratory investment is well over $100,000.00 and includes the ability to provide rapid blood chemistry, complete blood evaluation including blood clotting.
Two years ago we added the most advanced cloud-based, digital patient record system, that allows all clients and doctors to have a complete copy of each patients medical record.
This year we are excited to announce our new state of the art, high definition cloud-based radiography... cost $100,000.00+. This allow us the highest x-ray resolution possible,while allowing the radiographs to reside in the patient record and be sent instantly to the referring veterinarian via the cloud.
Drugs and consumables
Another 13% of the fees paid by pet owners goes towards medication and medical supplies. Many veterinary drugs are hugely expensive. Owners sometimes complain they can buy them cheaper online, but this masks the true reality of the situation.
The cost of running an online drugs warehouse is significantly cheaper than a pharmacy in an emergency veterinary clinic. Our clinics stock drugs for almost every eventuality and, as a result, waste is inevitable.
The reason for this is simple ó as a pet emergency service we just never know what will come through our doors.
One thing to consider is the maintenance of a canine and feline blood bank including blood plasma products. These are shockingly expensive and are short dated with significant expiration.
Running and maintaining a 24/7 veterinary critical care facility is a challenge. After looking at the true facts, our fees are easier to understand. What people must understand is that general practices do not have to deliver critical care of the scope and difficulty that we daily deliver. Too many times people look at the bills bottom line and ask why so much. The simple answer is the patents we care for require a host of services and they ad up. Many times we are asked to leave things out to reduce the total fee. Many years in practice have taught me that leaving critical diagnostics and treatment out, puts the patient at risk and increases patient mortality and practice liability.
The care the VES provides today is far different than when I started this, the first referral veterinary emergency in the world. We are blessed with innovation that has dramatically changed the lives of the patients I serve.
Thank you for allowing the Veterinary Emergency Service to provide for your loved pet in need...... Richard Lanier DVM