Distorting the reality of vets' fees

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 5:14am

I refer to the report ("Top doctor questions sky-high HK vet fees", January 7).

Veterinary fees reflect the high cost of treating animals. In Hong Kong, veterinary fees, unlike medical fees, are not softened by insurance or government subsidies.

Veterinarians need to:

  • Work from ground-floor premises to allow the animals access (and pay the high rent)
  • Employ a large staff to cope with the varied tasks in a hospital; and
  • Have most if not all hospital equipment and facilities available.

In your report, Dr Chow Pak-chin, an ophthalmologist, said, "I don't see how an operation on a dog would be more complicated and difficult than performing surgery on a human." Unfortunately, this is exactly so.

Canine cataracts are usually mature, requiring surgery times up to and over 60 minutes. Many human cataract surgeries are on immature cataracts, which may require 10 to 15 minutes. Dogs require a general anaesthetic, whereas humans have local anaesthesia.

General anaesthesia involves time, staff and equipment to monitor the animal during and after surgery. The lens in a dog is twice as thick as the lens in a human and is far more likely to develop complications following surgery. The number of human artificial lenses used worldwide is enormous, resulting in them being significantly cheaper than dog lenses.

Concerning the case of over-servicing, in fact veterinarians face growing pressure to advise and perform more tests, and this has come about in part because of the Veterinary Surgeons Board. Since 1997, in many of the cases heard, the vets were accused of not performing enough tests and procedures.

Dr Chow's statement that veterinary fees in Hong Kong were the highest in the world is refuted later in the article.

Hong Kong is a world-class and expensive city that has world-class medical and veterinary professions. I do not think that anyone should be surprised if they are asked to pay accordingly for them.

The price that Dr Chow quoted for cataract surgery was performed by a specialist who was flown in from Australia. Prices normally range from HK$11,000 to HK$20,000 when performed by Hong Kong vets.

Many people who fail to understand the costs involved consider veterinary fees to be too high. It is disappointing that a medical specialist would inflame this sentiment when he should know better.

Dr Tom Mangan, president, Hong Kong Veterinary Association