Do Vets Run Too Many Tests to Rack Up Your Bill? The Irreverent Vet Speaks Out

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I’ve heard it more than once. Okay, let’s be real: I hear it constantly, especially when people don’t think I can hear them. “Vets are greedy.” “Veterinarians are money-focused.” “All veterinarians care about is getting rich.” “They want to get every last penny out of you.” I’ve heard so many accusations in particular that vets run too many tests on their patients just so they can rack up your pet’s bill and make some extra cash.

Is this really what’s going on? And if so, what can you do about it?

Here’s the truth, like it or not…

Before I go any further, let me introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me. I’m the Irreverent Veterinarian, and I give you my honest opinion of issues in the animal care world. Some might say that I’m honest to a fault. I speak my mind and I won’t sweet-talk you or sugarcoat the truth. I tell it like it is: to you, the drug companies, the pet product manufacturers, professional breeders, and pet owners. Some of what I say can be controversial, but that doesn’t stop me – it can be hard to hear the truth.

So, are some veterinarians greedy?

The answer is yes.

Do some vets run more tests than are absolutely necessary or required?

The answer is, again, yes.

Here is the honest truth, and I wish it wasn’t like this:

Just like with any profession, there are good and bad in it. I have to say, after interacting with people in thousands of different professions, vets are pretty darn good people in general. Most veterinarians I’ve met over my career are honest, fair, and kind; they want only the best for the pets they treat. However, there are definitely some bad apples.

Even within the same profession (veterinary medicine), people are paid on different scales. If you ask me, that’s a big part of the problem with over-testing.

As a veterinarian, over the years I’ve been paid in nearly every method possible. I’ve earned my keep as an hourly employee, a salaried employee, and as a production-based employee. This last one means that a vet is paid on a percentage of what they do or the total of their invoices. Being “on production” is sort of like being on commission. Other vets are paid on an hourly wage only, yet more are paid on a salaried basis, and still others are paid an hourly base plus production (usually whatever is higher).

This means that if someone is a production-based veterinarian, they MAY be motivated to recommend more tests than a non-production veterinarian. Each test means a little more cash in their pocket, and that’s especially true if the vet is driven by money or the vet needs to recommend those tests to earn even a fair salary.

Here is an example of what I mean. I have done work at an emergency clinic where some vets are hourly and some are totally production-based. Most don’t know what or how the other vets are getting paid.

The difference can be significant. Imagine this: a dog walks in the door on Sunday morning, having vomited 3 times Saturday night and once that morning. The dog arrives around 8 a.m., running around the room and acting more energetic than it did at home (possibly from the adrenaline of being somewhere new). The physical examination of the dog is unremarkable and the dog’s temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate are normal. The dog’s abdomen did not seem painful when touched and nothing “seemed wrong.”

Different veterinarians will almost certainly respond differently to this, frequently depending on how they get paid.

Personally, I like to give owners all the options. I usually get more information about the condition and recommend a few courses of treatment based on my professional opinion on what is wrong with the dog, not by how much money this dog and client will bring into the clinic. Based on my recommendation, I can generally sway a client toward one option or the other if I really believe one is better for the pet.

For example, I would ask tons of questions, such as “Was there a diet change or new treats?” “Does the dog get into the trash?” “Are they taking any medications?” Questions such as whether the dog has a history of eating things he can’t digest such as socks or underwear can let me know whether there is anything in this history that really makes me worried that this is something serious and not just a minor viral or bacterial bug. If there is no history that concerns me, such as ingestion of a toxin or substance the dog can’t digest, this information helps me decide how serious the problem this.

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