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Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Best Practices, and Public Policy

New: AVCC Report Released

On December 17, 2018, the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition (AVCC), a diverse group of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary service providers, animal welfare and social service professionals, and educators, working in collaboration with the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work, released their seminal report, Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy.

Click here to access this valuable document.


The AVCC is conducting a national descriptive and comparative analyses of barriers to veterinary care experienced by pet owners and documenting best practices among providers of veterinary services, in urban, suburban, and rural communities across of the United States.

Although the concern is pets without adequate access to veterinary care, this project focuses on the people in their lives, i.e., pet owners and those who provide medical services to pets. Therefore, it is appropriate to commission a study by social services experts, like the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service (SWORPS) at the University of Tennessee.

Project Design

The study includes a number of surveys targeting pet owners and providers of veterinary services. The pet owners will be stratified into three socio-economic groups: 1) households below 138% of the federal poverty level, 2) households 138 - 250% above the federal poverty level, and 3) households above 250% of the federal poverty. The providers will be stratified by industry: 1) for-profit veterinary clinics/hospitals, 2) nonprofit animal welfare organizations, and 3) animal control (government) agencies.

To understand the barriers to access to veterinary care, measures of key variables will be taken, including financial, availability of needed services, and admissions criteria.

Key measures among pet owners will include:

  • Usual Point of Care (POC).
  • Type of care sought, including: urgent, primary, and/or wellness care.
  • Degree to which Scope of Services by the POC is a limiting factor:
    1. Needed services are not provided.
    2. Needed services are provided, however too expensive.
    3. Needed services are limited only to pet owners meeting certain criteria.
  • Degree to which finances dictate POC.

Key measures among providers will include:

  • Structured program to provide for underserved populations of pet owners.
  • Range of services provided to underserved populations.
  • Criteria used to identify underserved pet owners.
  • Characteristics of effective and sustainable delivery of services.
  • Barriers to providing services to underserved populations.
  • Standard of Care provided by subsidized programs vs. private for-profit clinics/hospitals.

The Center for Applied Research and Evaluation (CARE), a unit within the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work Office of Research and Public Service (SWORPS) will collect and analyze data that will serve as the underpinning of this research study. CARE will adopt a three-prong study design to inform this study:

  1. A mixed-mode survey with 4,800 pet owners from the general public. Surveys will be completed by telephone— using both landline and cell phone samples—and by web surveys using a purchased web panel. The sample will be stratified by the three income categories discussed above and by four geographic regions as defined by the U.S. Census. The purpose of the survey is to identify barriers to veterinary care and availability of resources. The robust sample size will allow statistical analysis and statistical modeling for detecting significant differences across income categories and geographic regions.
  2. A web survey of veterinarians and organizations providing veterinary services. The purpose of this phase will be to identify current practices and barriers to providing services to those who are currently underserved.
  3. Virtual focus groups with veterinarians and other professionals to identify best practices and explore creative solutions. Data from these sources will be used to inform public policy recommendations and articulate best practices for better serving the pet population of low-income households.

The AVCC will be conducting associated research in the form of surveys with clients of direct care programs, like Pets for Life and WisCARES, giving us a more robust cross-sectional view of the target population.


A seminal report that:

  • Identifies best practices — Present examples of best practices of veterinary care to underserved populations.
  • Guides public policies — Provides information that will guide the development of public policies to ensure access to veterinary care for all pets.
    1. Veterinarians, animal welfare organizations, animal shelters, and rescue organizations will gain an understanding of the barriers to pet owners acquiring care and the providers who wish to provide care for underserved populations.
    2. Veterinary colleges and schools will be able to adjust curricula to better prepare students to address the needs of underserved populations.
    3. Legislators and community leaders will have evidence-based information that will help in the formulation of laws and regulations that will facilitate access to veterinary care.
    4. Pet owners will learn that there are programs seeking to meet their needs.
  • Directs development of programs to increase pet retention — Increases pet retention by reducing the number of pets relinquished to animal shelters and rescue organizations due to medical/behavioral needs.
  • Guides development of programs to decrease economic euthanasia. — Decreases economic euthanasia by providing additional options for funding and/or level of veterinary care.

The report will establish benchmarks of current challenges in accessing veterinary care. The AVCC will continue to conduct studies, including follow-up analyses, to ensure progress is being made as demonstrated by reductions in the number of pets without adequate access to veterinary care. In addition, the AVCC will continue to:

  • Promote dialogue and facilitate collaborations among key stakeholder groups.
  • Drive innovations in the delivery of veterinary services.
  • Guide development of laws that ensure access to veterinary care for all pets.
  • Establish a university-based Access to Veterinary Care Program.
  • Encourage and mentor future animal welfare leaders.

Method of Analysis

Data collected from the telephone and web surveys of the general population will be analyzed using SPSS to measure the prevalence of barriers experienced by households in securing care for their pets. These data will also be analyzed to detect and determine strength of statistical differences across household income categories, geographical regions of the country, and population density. Regression and statistical modeling will be used, as appropriate. Similar statistical techniques will be used to analyze data from the web surveys of care providers and professionals.

Transcripts from the focus groups will be analyzed using Nvivo11, a qualitative and text analysis software program, to identify emerging themes regarding current practices for meeting the needs of pets whose owners lack resources. Themes will be explored to compile a list of best practices that are appropriate for different geographic and income categories.


Data collection for the AVCC study will be conducted from August 2017 through February 2018. The report will be published by the end of 2018.

Participation in Study

By veterinary service providers

By pet owners

The AVCC Report was Released December 17, 2018

Click here to access this valuable document.

Made Possible by a Grant from Maddie's Fund

The Access to Veterinary Care Coalition is a proud recipient of funding from Maddie's Fund®, helping to achieve a no-kill nation #ThanksToMaddie.

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