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I HEARD AN INTERESTING FEATURE on the radio the other day concerning trust and how it was becoming increasingly difficult to trust anyone and anything for fear of not getting the best deal.

“Getting the best deal” certainly seems to be the main goal with most of us these days to the point where we can “waste” any number of hours checking this or that website in order to make sure that the self-same thing isn’t for sale somewhere else just a few pounds or even pence cheaper.

How often do friends or colleagues (or we ourselves) begin a story with the phrase “I got a damn good deal the other day”? Getting a “good deal” can be important, but its not necessarily the same thing as getting “value for money”.

Trust is a funny thing that generally takes a long time to create yet can be destroyed very quickly. And trust is something that can greatly affect the way one feels about the purchase of almost anything from goods to services. Not having trust – or worse, having trust betrayed – can leave a nasty taste in the mouth and a nasty feeling right in the middle of one’s gut.

Professionals have traditionally relied on trust to both gain and retain clients and this has certainly been the case in the medical and veterinary fields. “Goodwill” when purchasing a veterinary practice reflected the importance of the trust the previous practitioner had built up over the preceding years.

Historically, the family doctor with his consulting room in the front parlour was familiar to many of us of a certain age and the same can be said for many veterinary practices. Individual doctors and not infrequently vets too became an integral part of a person’s life, and in the case of vets the person often adjusted their fees according to the known or assumed wealth of the client in question.

We were reminded of this quite recently in that well-known series about farming life – The Archers – when Alastair the vet undercharged Joe Grundy while showing his new prospective partner around the practice. And while I’m sure that this still goes on in some practices, particularly small rural ones, it is almost certainly far less common than in years gone by.

That sort of historical trust is invariably linked with a degree of loyalty from the client and a sense of service from the professional to the client who has instilled their trust in them.

Old-fashioned concept

In some ways it seems a very old-fashioned concept, especially when one goes back to the starting paragraph of this article where getting a good deal has become so important.

We are for instance always being urged to “shop around” for the cheapest energy supplier or the bank account that offers the most add-ons. And while this approach undoubtedly appeals to those who have little else to occupy their time and are eager to spend many a “happy” hour on any number of price comparison websites, most of us just want to be able to trust our electricity supplier or bank to treat us fairly so we can use our spare time for something more stimulating.

Clearly there is danger in looking at this matter of trust through rose-tinted spectacles and giving greater than warranted credence to the concept. Trust works both ways and if one is putting one’s trust in a professional it is right to expect that professional to be honest and upfront too. In medical and veterinary fields that includes the practitioner admitting his or her limitations and always giving best advice to patient or client, which might include referral to a more knowledgeable colleague in certain circumstances.

The reason I am bringing this up is because there has been a very significant change in veterinary practice over the last 20 years. While there are still a significant number of vet-owned practices around – be it as individuals or as partners – the rise of the corporates has been significant and their onward march is likely to be relentless. I have no great animosity towards them and I can see that they offer many advantages in terms of employment practice such as flexibility or working hours and consistency of approach.

On the downside, however, I suspect that they do not give the clinicians the freedom to make the sort of adjustments to pricing and service that the more traditionally-run practice might have entertained.

I also suspect that these corporate practices do not have the same esteem in the community that was and still is in some places enjoyed by the vet practices of old.

Looking for the best deal

My view is that they are unlikely to engender the same degree of trust from their clients and consequently nowhere near the same degree of loyalty either. And I would imagine that there is a great temptation in many clients to simply phone around or browse the “net” and choose whichever practice appears to offer the best “deal”.

Of course there is an argument (already alluded to) that there is nothing wrong with this, and that such competition is what gives customers and consumers the best deal – which in pure monetary terms is almost certainly correct although there is always a danger that apples and pears are being erroneously compared.

But if “value for money” is the important criterion, shopping around will not necessarily provide that. How the client “feels” about the service provided is paramount and if they feel they have been treated with fairness, honesty and respect by a practice that has always appeared to “care”, any extra bit of cost may seem like money well spent.

Trust is an important part of medical and veterinary practice. We would all do well to remember that and do all in our power to ensure that hard-earned trust is no unnecessarily sacrificed on the bonfire of the bottom line.

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