Openness needed on veterinary fees
When your beloved pets are sick, you want the best treatment for them. But in Hong Kong, the quality of service among vets varies as do the fees they charge. For many experienced pet owners, it often appears there is no correlation between quality and fees.
Even some vets themselves acknowledge the large discrepancy in fees charged by different clinics. Overnight care, diagnostics, medicine and surgeries - all can vary greatly.
Some vets include a physical checkup when they administrate the annual vaccination; others impose an extra charge.
The basic reason vets can charge what they want, or what owners would pay, is because there is no regulatory oversight.
Hong Kong has veterinary Surgeons Board, which advises fair practices as well as charges. But it has no enforcement power when it comes to fees. It's certainly not worth the time and effort to file a civil claim, either through the Small Claims Tribunal or the courts.
But such issues as high fees and service quality will not go away. On the contrary, they will become more serious and the number of complaints will only rise as registered dog and cat ownerships have shot up in recent years.
In the last census in 2011, there were more than 250,000 dogs and 170,000 cats living with families. The real numbers today are much higher and rising.
Transparency in charges is the key. It may be impossible or even desirable for the board to consider imposing fees. This does not mean clinics shouldn't disclose their charges and services like many hospitals and medical insurers now do.
If a client is unclear about the charges he or she may be expected to pay, a vet should always be available to clarify.
If more clinics do this, others would be under pressure to do the same.
A little openness and transparency can go a long way.