Podcast: Is There Media Bias Surrounding the Cost of Veterinary Care?

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Welcome to the Veterinary Breakroom! In the breakroom, Alyssa Watson, DVM, and Beth Molleson, DVM, discuss the important, relevant topics affecting veterinarians today. When a reporter for the New York Times recently issued a request for individuals to share their experiences of "being stuck with a big vet bill," Dr. Beth and Dr. Alyssa were concerned about the inflammatory language used in the survey. Tune in as Dr. Alyssa and Dr. Beth explore the ripple effect of the survey's impact on the veterinary community, including heightened anxiety and frustration.


Episode Transcript

This podcast recording represents the opinions of Dr. Alyssa and Dr. Beth. Content, including the transcript, is presented for discussion purposes and should not be taken as medical advice. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast. The transcript—which was prepared with the assistance of artificial intelligence—is provided as a service to our audience.

Dr. Alyssa [00:00:10] Hi, everyone, I'm Dr. Alyssa Watson.

Dr. Beth [00:00:13] And, I'm Dr. Beth Molleson.

Dr. Alyssa [00:00:15] Thank you for joining us again in the Veterinary Breakroom. In the Breakroom, Dr. Beth and I have short conversations where we just talk about things that are going on today in veterinary medicine. And, today's topic, we are going to talk about a little bit of a kerfuffle that we saw on social media recently thanks to a survey invitation from a New York Times reporter. This New York Times article has not been published yet. As far as we can tell, this is in just the first stages of development. But there was a call out to pet owners to submit their experiences with the cost of veterinary care. And this did end up causing quite a stir. It was shared in several of the social media groups that I belong to. And, I really feel like it sparked a lot of conversation and anxiety within those groups. And that's what we're going to kind of sit down and talk about today, Dr. Beth, you know, a little bit about what was it about this article that caused the veterinary community to respond so forcefully. And what are we envisioning is going to come of this article. So, Dr. Beth, had you seen this before, you know, I brought it to your attention and said I wanted to talk about it on Breakroom today?

Dr. Beth [00:01:46] Yeah, I did, I saw it. I think I saw one of my vet colleagues on Facebook share it. And of course, with some anxious, like you said, some anxious commentary, I think this elicited some anxiety in people. And, you know, my first reaction wasn't necessarily that this was a bad topic to look at. You know, I feel pretty passionately about the cost of veterinary care and the whole new, new popular term of spectrum of care and being able to provide vet care at a cost that people can afford. But to me, it was a title that really got me. I believe the title, again, I think it was published on April 11th, and it was eliciting people to write in and share their experiences, but the title of the survey was "Were you stuck with a big vet bill? Tell us about it." And to me, now of course, this is the world we live in where people are only going to click on things the more inflammatory they are, the more they're going to they're going to get clicked on. So in some way I understand why you've got kind of that edge to the title. And this at the same time, that was kind of the first thing that stuck out at me is like, wait a minute. Like, no one's sticking you with a vet bill, this isn't like something that you receive like six months later as a surprise. You know, I think most of the veterinary community is pretty good about walking you through estimates and costs and all that stuff. So that was kind of the first thing that stuck out at me. And then, you know, from there there's, of course, a little description in the article about a little bit of a comparison with human health care, which I thought was interesting. You know, it kind of said while pet health insurance can help ease the financial strain, you know, there aren't the same consumer protections that are required for human insurance. And, you know, to me, that was kind of like a like, of course, as a vet, I'm like, of course this isn't human health care. This is completely different. So those are my first two kind of impressions. And then my last big impression was if you scroll down and look at the survey, one of the questions it asks the public is to submit the name of your vet, which I think is where I saw a lot of people on social media taking issue with that, you know, having a name submitted with what is presumably going to be a complaint of some sort about the cost of vet care. But that was my impression. What was yours, Alyssa, when you when you dove into this?

Dr. Alyssa [00:04:21] Yeah. No, I think I'd love to go into each of those three points in a lot more detail that you just brought up because just like you, the title to this really set me off. And I had to step back and remember... So I always try to view things... I am a big fan of Hanlon's razor, and if you don't know what Hanlon's razor is, it's this philosophical idea that you should not attribute to malice anything that can be explained by stupidity. Or I guess in this case, like ignorance.

Dr. Beth [00:05:02] Yeah, just lack of knowledge. Whatever the case may be.

Dr. Alyssa [00:05:04] Yeah, lack of knowledge. So I really try to live by that and try to approach things from a "well, let's let's be curious as to, you know, what this person's motivation was and don't jump to the conclusion that their motivation was, you know, malicious or ill intent, you know, on this community." Because I really don't think that that was this reporter's, you know, that was her intent. In fact, I saw several, I personally know of two veterinarians that actually spoke with this reporter, and she was very receptive to speaking to the veterinary community. And I think that she wanted to get a handle on this. And just like you, this is a conversation, I mean, we've had this conversation, Dr. Beth. We've had this conversation on Breakroom. We've talked about spectrum of care. We've talked about is owning a pet a privilege.

Dr. Beth [00:05:56] Yep, a right or a privilege. Yep.

Dr. Alyssa [00:05:59] Exactly. And so and so I think where this comes in is these pieces just like you were talking about this comparison to human health care. And New York Times is very famous for doing these pieces on, you know, surprise medical bills. But that stems from a very different system of, you know, how we handle health care costs. And, and I think that that is one of the disconnects here that hopefully this reporter will start to understand. Human health care, especially here in the United States, I know we do have some global listeners and, and, our health care system is is quite complicated and nuanced. But, you know, with a lot of these insurance companies and policies and HMOs and PPOs and who's covering this and what's in network and what's out of network, there is the very real, you know, scenario in human health care where you get a bill, just like you said, six months or nine months later that you were not expecting, that you thought your insurance was going to cover, and for some reason your claim was denied or this happened. And beyond that, oftentimes I can't get a, you know, straight answer from my health care provider about what something costs before we go into it. You know, I'm like, well, what is this colonoscopy going to cost me? Or what is this surgery going to cost me? They don't know. They absolutely have no idea. And so just like you said, you know, we're in this other situation where we try very, very hard to provide detailed estimates, you know, to our clients so that they can understand exactly, you know, what each test, each procedure, you know, everything costs and also the value of that care. And so to me, it was just very hurtful to to have that almost disregarded, I guess, is how I felt. What do you think?

Dr. Beth [00:08:13] Absolutely. I think it felt, and again, I think, like you said, kind of that benefit of the doubt mentality. Benefit of the doubt to me is that this title and that, you know, little summary with the survey best case scenario was it's inflammatory on purpose is kind of what I'm hoping. You know, you're trying to get the responses. You're trying to get those loud voices, those opinions flowing, trying to gather information from the public. You know, I think that's kind of best case scenario, but I think that's exactly what was hurtful about it. It wasn't the fact that people want to have this conversation. It was the fact that before the article was written, there was a vibe to it. You know, it wasn't like it wasn't just asking for neutral opinions. It seemed to be out looking for complaints about veterinarians, and especially in the landscape of not one more vet and mental health for veterinarians and student loan burden, which I know New York Times has done articles on those topics before, which is fantastic. So I know this isn't like, you know, a novel concept to them that the veterinary industry is a nuanced thing. But yeah, I think to me that that's what was so upsetting was it was just kind of that narrative. And like you said so much about human health care, I know this journalist reports a lot about the intersection of finances and human health care, which, of course, is such an important topic. And I think that's what will be interesting to me. Will be to see, you know, do we capture what veterinary medicine is all about? Will this wind up being a really informative article that does kind of capture all that nuance? You know, I think in an ideal world, we would have just a bigger, broader discussion that kind of helps bridge the gap between the general public and the veterinarians. You know, all those things that we want to tell the public. You know, I see so many vets like sharing articles about the mental health of veterinarians, sharing articles about the cost of veterinary health care because we want so desperately for the general public and our pet owners to understand both sides of what's going on with just veterinary medicine in general, the costs behind it, the staff shortages, things like that. So my hope is that this article maybe will include, of course, some of those cost stories, but will be within a bigger picture of the state of the veterinary industry. But yeah, I'm not sure. And I think this hits on a nerve for so many of us because how many of us are constantly feeling like we have to defend the cost of vet care? I know even, I have good friends who will text me saying like, I don't want to take my pet in because it's just too expensive. Can you tell me X, Y, or Z? Or you know, you're recommending this medication, but am I going to get there, and it's going to be super expensive? So even to our family and friends like this is constantly a drain on our well-being and a constant stressor for us. So to see something so blatant, I think is hitting on a nerve that a lot of us already have kind of keyed up.

Dr. Alyssa [00:11:17] Right. I kind of wondered if, you know, just just why did everybody have such a just visceral, defensive reaction? Because my reaction was visceral, and it was very defensive. And I'm not saying that we're not justified in having that reaction. You know, I think that just like you said, all of those things go into it. You know, I, I have that with family and friends, which is even worse because, you know, I have a family that is is on the human health care side. And I will tell you, there is nothing worse than sitting with a group of human physicians knowing what they make and having them complain about the cost of vet care.

Dr. Beth [00:12:02] Yep yep yep. Having them self-treat because vet care's too expensive. Yeah. Absolutely. And one other thing I wanted to to mention too, that I think so many of us are, I saw a lot of people having a visceral reaction to that going back to how there was inclusion of a veterinary name. I think trying to keep in mind that benefit of the doubt scenario, my hope is that maybe that was included so that this journalist can contact, you know, the veterinarian to try to get their side or get more information about the cost structure. So I just want to add that in as I'm trying to maintain that, you know, benefit of the doubt situation, that maybe this will be a two-sided story, maybe we will get that holistic picture, but we'll see.

Dr. Alyssa [00:12:49] Yeah, yeah, I think that is another place where people just had very, you know, just anxiety about that. And, you know, there's questions too, they wanted the survey called for inclusion of, you know, copies of things like estimates as well as final bills and things like that. And so when it gets down into the nitty gritty there, without having the benefit of being in the exam room and knowing, you know, going back and trying to recreate a conversation like that is so hard, right? You know, I even have trouble when I, when I have to sit down at the end of the day after I've had 20 patients, you know, and recreate my records. And so I don't know what I would do if somebody called me and was like, "remember this case like eight months ago, why did you give them an estimate for X?" Like that would be really difficult. And so I think that, you know, I'm not sure how that information is going to be used, but I would hope, like you said it, it might just be in the information gathering stage and certainly not used in order to target a particular or call out a particular, veterinarian or a veterinary hospital because I think that that can we all know that in today's day and age that can be really dangerous.

Dr. Beth [00:14:14] Absolutely. I think, like you said, certainly that is my hope as well. You know, I think I've noticed even in my local moms group, there seems to be, not vet-related, but there seems to be this willingness across veterinarians/human health care to feel people just seem to feel free to bad mouth doctors like, I don't know if it's because they see them as... I honestly don't know what it is, but I would maybe it's just the the inherent nature of trolls on the internet, but like, you know, there will be a mom that posts, "does anyone have a pediatrician that you recommend?" And someone else will post like "do not go to doctor X, Y, or Z. Like they said this to me. They did this to my child." Which of course you know, there's only one side of this story. And I just my vet friends and I were talking about how we live in fear of the day that our name somehow pops up in one of those, you know, in one of those posts. Someone had a one-off experience or no matter how good of a vet we are, we always know there's those people that somehow walk away with some sort of negative impression. And we've talked about this on the podcast before too, but, just in the day of internet bashing, I think, speaking of hitting a nerve, we all live in fear of, you know, worst case theory, we see our name in a New York Times article. Something that we don't get to defend ourselves for, which hopefully is not the case here. But I think that also really hits a nerve for a lot of us.

Dr. Alyssa [00:15:45] So if you could choose and we don't know, we don't know if this piece will even come to fruition, right. It might not. There might be too much here or not the feedback that this reporter was expecting. But I'm gonna put you on the spot, Beth, what would be the best case scenario for this piece? Like, what would you like to see come out of it?

Dr. Beth [00:16:12] Yeah, I think that's a great question because I do really hope that this information gathering was just to kind of get one aspect of a holistic story that she wants to put together. You know, I think there is never anything bad, going back to the idea of trying to bridge that communication gap between the general public and the veterinary professionals, I think we should always encourage people like journalists helping us with that dialog. You know, anybody that can help kind of explain one side or the other to our pet-owning population, I think has the potential to be a really good thing. So that's my hope. My hope is that this somewhat inflammatory survey was just to get people talking and to maybe hear some of the passion from pet owners about what they're dealing with, with costs of veterinary care. And I'm hoping that's just going to be one small piece of, again, just a holistic representation of the frustration about costs that everyone feels that's in the veterinary industry. So I think that's best case scenario. Obviously, we touched on a few of the worst case scenarios where, you know, a piece may come to fruition that doesn't feel like it's giving vets a fair voice. But like you said, time will tell. I know that I know this journalist has gotten a lot of feedback so far, and hopefully that's helping to to again make that that more holistic picture. But what are your thoughts?

Dr. Alyssa [00:17:38] Yeah. No, I agree with that 100%. I guess if I could have anything I wanted, I would love to get out there like an actual true comparison between the cost of human health care and the cost of veterinary care and why you you can't really compare them to each other. Right. That you're not comparing apples to apples. I know it's cliche, but just the way the system is set up is so different. And and we've I've said this on the podcast multiple times, I don't believe that veterinary medicine always should follow human health care models for lots of things, you know, for how we, you know, how the, what the cost of care is. You know, how we do diagnostics, certain things, how we structure our clinics and our pay for our employees and our staff. I don't necessarily think that we always need to model human health care. And in fact, sometimes I think it's detrimental to us because it's such a different animal. And so, that's what I would like to see. I doubt it'll go with that way.

Dr. Beth [00:18:54] I think it's certainly possible. I mean, I think, like you said, that narrative to me. Yes, getting more granular, I think that narrative of spectrum of care would be the ideal where we can kind of, like you said, make the comparisons between or the lack thereof of veterinary care and human health care, discussing how there's been such an elevation in the level of care in the veterinary industry, and in some instances, that's why the cost of care seems so high, trying to get the industry to really embrace that spectrum of care model and get pet owners to understand what that means, I think could be a message that could go a long way.

Dr. Alyssa [00:19:33] Yeah. It could. Well, we'll keep our eyes and ears open, everyone. And and if this story pops back up in the New York Times someday, maybe we'll get to talk about it again.

Dr. Beth [00:19:45] I hope so. I would, I would love to love to read something just to see how this all comes to fruition.

Dr. Alyssa [00:19:51] Just to circle back. Just to see what our predictions were.

Dr. Beth [00:19:53] That's right. Keeping our optimism hats on, Alyssa, do you have any wins this week?

Dr. Alyssa [00:19:59] Yeah, I do. I do have a win. As strange as it sounds, my win this week is that I, I went to work on Tuesday.

Dr. Beth [00:20:13] I want to know, that's always a win, but I want to know the specifics behind it.

Dr. Alyssa [00:20:18] So actually, Monday I had a horrible day. Like, just a horrible, horrible day. It was probably the worst euthanasia that I've ever had in my 20 year career. And I won't go into specifics of it because it's very personal for the families and everything, but we all know that these things don't, no matter how much we try and no matter you know what we do, these things don't always go smoothly. And this one was bad to the point where I was questioning whether I should even be doing this. But I talked with my boss, and I talked with a very, very good friend who, you know, also does in-home hospice and euthanasia and decompressed and ran through everything. And my boss said, you know, do you want me to take your appointments tomorrow? You know, you can take the day off if you if you feel like you need that. It was that bad. And I said, no. I said, I'm going to go. And that's what I did. And I went to work on Tuesday, and I'm still here today.

Dr. Beth [00:21:28] I was going to say, did you feel better afterword?

Dr. Alyssa [00:21:31] I did. I really did.

Dr. Beth [00:21:34] Good.

Dr. Alyssa [00:21:35] It was a better day.

Dr. Beth [00:21:36] Good. Surviving our bad days is always cause for celebration. I think that's another fun joy of this career is we will all have those super low days. So even though everyone's might not have been on Monday, you were not alone. We have all been there where we just cannot believe that we have to wake up and do it all again the next day. But, well, I'm glad you made it on Tuesday, Alyssa. My win is going to be, I'll take us in a more lighthearted direction. Mine's not going to be vet-related this week. Mine is going to be that I survived my first kindergarten field trip last week. So I guess it's somewhat animal-related because I went to the zoo with my daughter's kindergarten class. I was in charge of four small children. I kept everybody alive. And there was one girl that, I have to tell this story, it's kind of funny. But my daughter Quinn, who's a little bit dramatic, she came home from school one day, we'll call this other girl Jane, she comes in and she goes, Jane is my nemesis. And I was like, oh, you know Quinn. Like, I'm...

Dr. Alyssa [00:22:51] That's a strong word.

Dr. Beth [00:22:53] Yeah, it's a strong word. Like, oh, please tell me we're being nice to everybody. You know, like a little bit of panic trying to hear what she had to say, but also wanting to be like, please remember to be nice to everybody and I think this girl can be a little bit, this other girl's probably very similar to my daughter. Strong opinions, maybe a little bit of bossy, we'll just say. Anyway, this girl was in my group at the zoo. And it was a lot between her and my daughter and just, you know, they they actually, they got along fine that day. The nemesis thing only lasted, like, a day. Now they're friends again. But. Anyway, this girl really kept me on my toes all day, and I like walk in the house afterward, and I was like, Sean, my husband, like I think Jane might be my nemesis, too. I just I suddenly had so much more empathy for my my daughter.

Dr. Alyssa [00:23:51] For teachers. Oh, I was going to say for teachers.

Dr. Beth [00:23:53] What I said, I also said to my husband, I said I might give I may just give Quinn's teacher access to her bank account and tell her she can take whatever she needs to make her life better, to make sure she stays happy. Because yes, I was there for four hours and these lovely, lovely teachers are there for nine months every year. Yeah. So it was, it gave me a little empathy for the teachers and for, you know, how how taxing it can be to be around those kids. But it was a good time. We had good weather, saw lots of animals. Got to see Fiona, the famous hippo at our Cincinnati Zoo.

Dr. Alyssa [00:24:28] You actually saw Fiona?

Dr. Beth [00:24:30] Oh, Fiona and I are good friends. Yeah, Fiona has a little brother now, Fritz. And actually Fiona, Fritz, and both the mom and the stepdad, so to speak, were all very active. So they were, it was great for the kids. They were jumping around.

Dr. Alyssa [00:24:44] I have only ever seen Fiona on a webcam, so I am super jealous.

Dr. Beth [00:24:49] You need to come to Cincinnati. Just one more reason.

Dr. Alyssa [00:24:53] Okay. Well, that's fantastic. Thank you everybody for joining us. We will catch you next time in the breakroom.


  • podcast@vetmedux.com

Where To Find Us:

The Team:

  • Alyssa Watson, DVM - Host

  • Beth Molleson, DVM - Host

  • Alexis Ussery - Producer & Multimedia Specialist

Disclaimer: This podcast recording represents the opinions of Dr. Alyssa Watson and Dr. Beth Molleson. Content is presented for discussion purposes and should not be taken as medical advice. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.