The Cost of Satisfaction


You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours

overdoingit1 I have come to realize that there are lots of people who really like over-caring for their horses. And, mostly, I don’t see anything wrong with that.  I mean, what’s the harm from spending extra time brushing, scratching, walking, etc?  It’s good for the horse – it’s good for the person.  But it can certainly go further than that – for some people, mixing special grains and supplements, and scheduling appointments for this, that, or the other thing actually provides a sense of joy (even if it doesn’t do anything for the horse).
NOTE:  Making yourself happy by providing care is quite a common thing.  For example, a couple of weeks ago, I made home-made peach cobbler (CLICK HERE for the recipe – it’s amazing, and easy).  I could have easily gone to the frozen foods section, and picked out some frozen, prepackaged cobbler, and I’m sure it would have been fine, but I really did love the whole process of putting it together, followed by the reward of eating it.  I certainly made the cobbler for everyone to enjoy, but I also did if for me.
Horse Products These well-meaning, and entirely laudable desires to provide lots of care, also create a demand.  Demand, in turn, can create supply.  So, for example, if somebody doesn’t like something about his or her horse horse (hoof, hair, behavior, etc.), you can be pretty sure that there is going to be some company somewhere that is going to come up with a product to satisfy that demand, (or, as noted in my last post, some individual who is “certified” to address that worry).  It’s not just a matter of evil people and greedy companies trying to dupe consumers (although I do think that there’s some of that, too).  A good bit of all of the product-based nonsense that’s out there comes straight from horse owners. Marketing experts can smell consumers looking for products, and they jump to put something on the shelves.
Still, the bottom line is that doing stuff for a horse usually makes the person doing it happy.  When someone feels as if he or she is doing a good job with horse care, that person usually feels satisfied.  And, mostly, that’s a great way to feel.  But you have to remember, that feeling of satisfaction can also come at a considerable cost, and it’s not always a good thing.
Satisfaction-us In 2012, in the prestigious human journal, “Archives of Internal Medicine,” some investigators looked at what it cost people who were the most satisfied with their own health care.  I found the results of the study to be incredibly interesting, and, in some cases, quite surprising.  The study has some big implications for horse owners, too.
“The Cost of Satisfaction:  a National Study of Patient Satisfaction, Health Care Utilization, Expenditures, and Mortality,” was conducted at the University of California, at Davis, CA (where they also have a veterinary school).  The study was conducted because measures of patient satisfaction are very important in the human health care arena.  (It’s probably the same in veterinary medicine, but veterinarians typically haven’t measured such things.)  Doctors and hospitals and such like very much to know that their patients have been happy after their visits, because a happy customer will usually be a returning customer.  You can CLICK HERE is you want to read the whole study.
amused to death NOTE:  “Happy” doesn’t necessarily mean, “better health.”  In satisfaction surveys, hospitals and doctors are not trying to find out if the problem was cured, or how healthy people are.  Rather, they’re trying to find out if the people involved were pleased with how they were treated, or with what was done for them.
It’s generally assumed that a happier patient is a healthier patient.  However, prior to this study, nobody had really looked much at the relationship between satisfaction, health care utilization, expenditures, and patient outcomes.  Otherwise stated, nobody really looked at whether a person was happy with how he or she was treated had anything to do with if he or she got better, and nobody had looked at the cost associated with that happiness.
So, here’s what they found out.  Turns out that the two things don’t have anything to do with each other.  Happy does not equal healthy.  In fact, when compared to patients who are less satisfied with their health care, people who are the most satisfied with their doctors:
  • are more likely to be hospitalized
  • accumulate more health-care and drug expenditures
  • AND, they also have higher death rates
You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours

Now, as I said, nobody has really done this sort of a survey when it comes to horse care.  Frankly, I think, at least in part, that’s because of the second item, above.  That is, if happier clients spend more money, that money is going directly to someone, and that someone has a business to run.  In business, the bottom line is usually the bottom line.  If one person is making money, and the other person is made happy by spending it, both sides are likely to be happy, at least on some sort of a superficial level.  But I think that all of this happy thinking ignores what’s really supposed to be important, that is, the health of the horse.

Pander Bear In human medicine (again), studies have also shown that the extent to which someone is happy with his or her health care correlates directly with the extent to which doctors fulfill a clients’ expectations.  But think about it;  is that what you really want?  I mean, when it comes to your horse, do you really want the focus to be on making you happy?  Do you really want your veterinarian to follow the path of least resistance and succumb to demands created by the popular press, or do you want him or her to do what’s best for your horse?  Even if they make a horse owner happy and satisfied, needless tests, treatments, and products can expose the horse to risks without benefits, but at a certain cost to you.

If happiness and satisfaction is the goal of treating your horse, there can be an additional cost:  to the horse.  If one person worries too much about telling another person something that he or she doesn’t want to hear because of concerns that the other person won’t be happy or satisfied, issues such as obesity, overwork, or even abuse may go unaddressed.  When I tell someone that their horse is overweight, it doesn’t make that person happy, but if I don’t, it has the potential to be very bad for the horse.

NOTE:  In my experience, if I tell someone that their horse is overweight, that person often reacts as if I saying that he or she is overweight.  Seriously – it can be very awkward.  CLICK HERE if you want to read about fat horses.

expectations While some people may be very happy to provide their horse with each and every possible treatment and supplement for a particular condition – and others may be very happy to accept payment for it – I really don’t think that’s the proper approach.  I’d prefer to listen to your concerns, review your options in an evenhanded, non-judgmental way, and talk about the risks and costs of various interventions, including those that have not been shown to be of benefit.  In that way, I think that people can be well-satisfied with the care that their horse has been provided, and also be satisfied that the care was necessary and beneficial.

If the goal of horse care is to simply make someone happy, I think it cheapens and threatens the whole concept of effective horse care.  From a professional point-of-view, if client satisfaction is the main goal, health care professionals end up being service providers, as well as salesmen.  Horse care should be more than just an exercise in effective retailing.

While sometimes satisfying, providing unnecessary treatments and services certainly costs money, and it may occasionally even do more harm than good.*  I really do think that it really behooves you (by the way, I love using the word, behoove, when I’m talking about horses) to try to distinguish between what your horse needs and what is making you happy, if for no other reason because it will make taking care of your horse a bit less expensive. The bottom line is that more is not necessarily better, and, if you want more, you will certainly have to pay for it.

Now get out there and give your buddy a good scratch.  You’ll both be satisfied.


* Pretty much everything has at least the potential for harm.  But if there’s no demonstrable benefit, and only risk, no matter how small the risk, it’s really not worth it.

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