New report: Barriers to veterinary care largely financial

 

In the past two years, nearly 28% of households with pets couldn’t afford to provide those pets with the veterinary care they needed.

That troubling statistic is among the findings in a new report on access to veterinary care released this week by the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition (AVCC), a partnership of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary service providers, animal welfare and social service professionals, and educators working with the University of Tennessee (UT) College of Social Work.

And the overwhelming barrier for all groups of pet owners is financial, with 80% unable to obtain preventive care due to financial constraints, 74% unable to obtain sick care, and 56% unable to obtain emergency care.

Most at risk for not receiving recommended care are cats and dogs living in lower-income households with younger pet owners.

And according to the report, the veterinary profession is aware of the problem, as well as the need to do something about it—95% of veterinarians surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “All pets deserve some level of veterinary care.” And 87% agreed that not being able to obtain needed veterinary care impacts the owner’s mental and emotional health.

Working in association with the UT College of Social Work and the Veterinary Social Work program at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, the AVCC conducted a national survey (made possible by a grant from Maddie’s Fund) of pet owners—including populations with inadequate access to veterinary care—and veterinary service providers. The new report is the result of that survey.

The AVCC’s goal in conducting the survey was to identify barriers that pet owners face as well as best practices among those delivering veterinary care to underserved pet owners in the hope that a better understanding of the problems will encourage evidence-based strategies to save pets’ lives.

NEWStat reached out to AVCC Chairperson Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, for comment.

“Historically, veterinarians have taken steps to offer treatment alternatives to avoid nontreatment when presented with a patient whose owner does not have the funds to pay for recommended care,” Blackwell said. “However, the veterinary profession alone cannot significantly improve access to veterinary care, primarily because of the complexities of low socioeconomics among many pet owners.”

The report includes some recommendations:

  • Improve veterinary care delivery systems to serve all socioeconomic groups.
  • Provide incremental care to avoid nontreatment.
  • Improve availability of valid and reliable information to educate pet owners.
  • Develop public policies that improve access to veterinary care and pet retention.

Blackwell believes teamwork is key: “A One Health approach is necessary. Veterinarians can advocate for, and engage in, collaborations with others to develop solutions.”

And he remains upbeat: “Through coordinated efforts, underserved pet owners can be reached.”

Photo credit: © iStock/groomee