Managing conflicting ethical concerns in modern small animal practice — A comparative study of veterinarian’s decision ethics in Austria, Denmark and the UK
By S. Springer, P. Sandøe, H. Grimm, S.A. Corr, A.T. Kristensen, and T.B. Lund (2021)
Small animal veterinarians frequently have to manage conflicting interests. Beside the key consideration of the patient’s interests, small animal veterinarians are often challenged to consider not only client’s emotional needs, but also their own personal aspirations to provide quality patient care and to make a good living as a professional. Further, veterinarians have an interest in continuous professional development and the use of the newest treatments, which may influence their decision-making process. Based on published work, we hypothesize the existence of four decision ethics orientations that veterinarians can use to manage potentially conflicting concerns. These are: the patient-focused, the client-empathetic, the client-devolved and the development-oriented decision ethics orientations. We surveyed small animal veterinarians in Austria, Denmark, and the UK using a questionnaire (N = 648), and successfully identified the four decision ethics orientations in all three countries. The patient-focused and client-empathetic decision ethics orientations are salient in all countries, whereas Danish and UK veterinarians are slightly more client-empathetic and client-devolved compared to their Austrian colleagues. Across countries our findings show that experienced and older veterinarians tend to be more client-empathetic. Younger and less experienced professionals are more development-oriented compared to their older and more experienced colleagues. In contrast to other studies investigating ethical issues in small animal practice, we found no evidence that gender plays a decisive role in the tendency towards any decision ethics orientation. We also show that veterinarians with a higher client-empathetic orientation and development-orientation more often discuss the possibility of health insurance with clients who do not have it. The present study provides a first empirical insight into how veterinarians manage challenging expectations and ethical concerns as part of decision making in modern small animal practice.