AVMA responds to Indianapolis Star series attacking veterinarians

AVMA President Dr. Ted Cohn today sent a letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star expressing our disappointment and concern about a series of articles that we believe impugn veterinarians and call into question their integrity and professionalism. The series of articles was titled “Pets at Risk,” and the last of the series installments was published Sunday.

Here is the content of the letter:

“Dear Editor,

Your recent “Pets at Risk” series attacks the integrity of veterinary doctors and calls into question their motives. On behalf of the veterinary profession, the American Veterinary Medical Association not only takes exception to these implications, we are offended by them. Veterinarians are, first and foremost, committed to promoting, preserving and protecting the health of our pets. Indeed, we entered into the profession because of a sincere love for the animals we serve.

The articles are heavy on conjecture and innuendo and short on facts. While you tried to paint a picture of veterinarians being beholden to pharmaceutical companies for monetary gain, you failed to cite even one specific case of impropriety or lack of professionalism. The same can be said for your suggestions that the AVMA annual convention “revealed just one of the many ways corporate money influences pet health care … threatening the objectivity of those prescribing drugs to your dog or cat.” Like every business, veterinarians must make a profit to stay in business, but to suggest that a profit motive would compromise our professional judgment without any supporting evidence is simply irresponsible. As a private practitioner myself, I can assure your readers that such allegations of impropriety are simply not true. Veterinarians have earned the trust and respect of pet owners and deservedly so.

Your series provided a very one-sided perspective on the issue of noneconomic damages, that is, holding veterinarians responsible for emotional damages caused by the loss of a pet. Allowing noneconomic damages could provide a financial windfall for a few pet owners and their lawyers, but they would also raise the cost of veterinary care for all pet owners. We feel that state licensing bodies have ample authority to regulate the rare case of substandard care without making the cost of care unaffordable to many pet owners. As pet owners themselves, veterinarians understand the bond people have with their pets and would not do anything to intentionally jeopardize the health of any pet.

The story on the safety of pet pharmaceuticals focused on the risks but fails to recognize the value of these products in protecting our pets from life-threatening diseases. The reality is that approved veterinary drugs save thousands of pets’ lives while providing them a better quality of life. All human and animal medications have the potential to cause an adverse event; however, the FDA’s scrutiny and tracking, and corporate research processes, are all designed to minimize these risks while providing medications that treat, cure and manage serious illnesses.

Finally, any good piece of investigative journalism should get people thinking and inspire them to take action for positive change. But we feel this series could have the unintended consequence of frightening people away from visiting their veterinarian when we know that regular visits to a veterinarian are essential for their pets’ health and long-term well-being. That, sadly, would be a disservice to all of your readers and would most certainly result in putting pets’ health at risk.”

The letter to the editor was our public response to the Star, and we encourage and invite you to respond as well by visiting the newspaper’s website and Facebook page to share your thoughts about the articles. You can also submit letters to the editor via the paper’s website.

Finally, we expect the Reuters news agency to publish another story with a similar focus and tone sometime over the next several days. We can assure you that we will be following the story, and that we will keep you updated on it and respond appropriately in an effort to best represent the interests of our members and to support the veterinary profession. (Update: You can view our response to the Reuters report here.)

7 thoughts on “AVMA responds to Indianapolis Star series attacking veterinarians

  1. The md featured in the story should be ashamed for participating in a story that attacks the integrity of veterinary medicine. As a medical professional, his poor conduct is disappointing but also lacks any medical evidence supporting his claims. Was there a necropsy performed? Any supporting pathological evidence based on organ samples? As a medical professional, this doctor should know better. If a veterinarian ever committed this professional misconduct against the human medical profession, I can only imagine the uproar we as veterinarians would hear from mds

  2. Human medicine should be obligated to provide the transparency that veterinary medicine provides with regard to the cost of goods and services . Having been in the animal care industry for 30 years, I have watched the profit margin of independent (non-corporate) practices become almost nonexistent in order to keep healthcare for our furry family members affordable. Thanks for the well worded reply to an apparently biased report.

  3. Thank you for writing this letter. I believe there is a general lack of public understanding with regards to choices veterinarians have to make everyday in managing their cases that few physicians face. We have been trained to diagnose and treat diseases via best medicine practices, but daily, must make choices based on budget, client wishes and quality of life for the patient which may steer us away from best medicine. We are more beholden to our clients than any pharmaceutical company. At the end of the day, many of us go home weary and sad because we were unable to perform the care we were trained to give. Clients think that because we love animals that we should give services for free or at a low, low cost, not realizing that we try to pay our employees a living wage and must invest in our practices to have the diagnostic equipment, drugs and hospital equipment to take care of their sick pets. We must be profitable or we won’t be around to serve our communities in the future. When I say profitable, it is not the obscene profits made by corporate America, but a modest profit to give raises and keep our hospitals up to date. The general public is shielded from the costs of human medical care because many have health insurance. Most of our veterinary clients have not bought insurance for their pets, but I would encourage more to do so. It is a win win for the patient, client and veterinarian because patients will receive better care and improved outcomes. Healthy patients, happy clients, fulfilled veterinarians.

  4. Very well written with legitimate points.
    Medical professions have been accused of using medications for profit by several public forums. The articles are poorly researched and very squewed.
    As a veterinarian the first consideration is which medication is best for the disease.
    Cost is a consideration but efficacy and compliance are the primary concerns.
    Note it is cost, not profit.
    Pharmaceutical companies spend time and funds to make the best products with the smallest amounts of negative affects. At “trade shows” their representatives are able to speak to veterinarians about the new medications. They are obligated to discuss the positive, and negative of each medication.
    This benefits the practitioner because he can discuss all the different medications from all forums in one area. Win-Win.

  5. A well-written, clearly stated letter. The Indianapolis Star has embarrassed itself.