You’ll get medical care, but you’ll have to pay your own hard-earned money for service…

Buddy, my 5 year old never-been-sick dog, who likes swimming and rabbits, was on death’s door on Tuesday morning. He’d had diarrhea for a few days and then stopped eating and drinking. His eyes were so red they were almost bloody. His temperature was 105. He couldn’t walk. 

I was out of town in Houston. Kiley, who watches Buddy when I’m traveling, called me crying (she loves him so much). I told her to take him to the vet. She did. As I was heading to the airport to come back to NYC, the vet called and told me that Buddy was very, very sick and needed to go to the ER. He thought Buddy looked septic (an overwhelming bacterial blood infection) and he was very worried. Kiley rushed him to the dog ER in Cobble Hill. She called just a few minutes before my plane took off. She said they estimated a likely low end cost and a high end cost for Buddy’s care. At the low end, it was going to be $2200 for 3 nights of hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics, and everything else they needed to do. At the high end, it was estimated to cost $3400. They needed my card to guarantee at least the low end cost of his care. So my card was charged $2200.

Buddy made a fairly remarkable turnaround. His diagnosis: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a tick-borne infection that sometimes causes a very quick demise with systemic vasculitis. I have no idea how he got a tick infected with Rickettsia rickettsii, he hasn’t been outside of Brooklyn for two months and I’ve never found a tick on him in his life. His blood vessels all over his body were wildly inflamed. Poor guy. He was super sick, miserable, and in massive pain.

But throughout the entire experience, the vet called me with every new detail keeping me up to date on every new development from blood tests to vitals to changes in his clinical appearance. 

The entire relationship between me and the vet was based on communication and customer service. 

At the end, the bill was itemized and totaled $1800. I got a refund of $400.

The difference between dog care and human care is:

I’m the customer.

I’m paying out of my own pocket for care, I’m paying for service, and I could just as easily go somewhere else next time Buddy needs good care. But, of course, the next time Buddy gets sick, I know that VERG will take super good care of Buddy and make sure they’re giving me the best service imaginable. 

Someone (update: it was blue_beetle) once said “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

This is the future of medical care in America. Sure, we’ll get access to some care, but we’ll have to pay for attentive service, communication, meaningful relationships, and an overall great experience. There will soon be a widening gap between two American healthcare experiences:

  • The insurance company is the customer. This will be the dominant experience for most people because service, communication, and relationships will be too expensive. Insurance companies will pay the bare minimum to ensure you are one of the 40 patients your doctor will see that day. This is unsafe and inhumane.
  • You are the customer. This will be the ideal experience and will be expensive. You’ll have insurance, but you’ll also pay your own hard-earned cash for communication and customer service. You’ll be one of 10-15 patients your doctor sees that day. But you’ll also have a doctor that personally knows you and cares for you.

My entire career has been based on inspiring a better patient experience from my first practice to Hello Health, and to my latest projects I’ll be talking about soon. From the very beginning, I’ve fought to put the patient at the center of the experience and have built a few companies making sure this happened.

But it’s just so sad that often times dogs get better service than humans in America. Buddy is fortunate–he’s got an owner who can afford good care. But shouldn’t we all be able to afford good care? We spend almost $3 trillion a year on medical care. Where’s the value we’re getting from all this money? Shouldn’t we demand better?