Among the many challenges that come with operating a veterinary clinic, the American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes clients’ “disconnect around cost” as one worthy of ongoing research and training for practice owners and their teams.
With the release of the AVMA’s latest resources on communicating about pet care costs—including webinars, ebooks and pocket guides—we decided to review the new materials to help us fine-tune our approach to conversations with you—our clients—about the costs of veterinary care for your pets.
Our aim in giving ourselves a “cost communications refresher course” is to make all our conversations with you about pet care costs—whether face-to-face, by telephone, text and email, or on our website—as empathetic, informative and personally relevant as we can.
Why Many of Us Dread ‘Money Talk’
Many veterinarians and their teams find it difficult to talk to clients about money. Some of the reasons veterinary teams cite:
- We don’t have time to talk about costs during the limited time available for each appointment.
- We’re afraid any talk of money—especially if we bring it up first—will make our clients think that’s all we care about.
- We’re health care providers—not financial advisors. It’s not our job to talk about money.
Other reasons our fellow veterinarians say they tend to shy away from conversations about money:
- We fear emotional reactions from clients, declined recommendations and damage to our relationship.
- We sometimes feel guilty about recommending treatments we suspect the client may not be able to afford—especially if we’d have a hard time affording them ourselves.
- It’s quicker and easier to make assumptions about a client’s ability to pay and adjust our recommendations to fit our best guesses than it is to offer a fuller range of options without regard for cost.
- We worry that clients interpret any discussion of money to mean we care less about doing what’s best for the patient and more about making money for our clinic.
At Brownsburg Animal Clinic, we freely admit to having experienced some of these worries about cost discussions ourselves. In our years of practice, it’s likely every one of our veterinarians and team members may well have inadvertently committed some of the cost conversation “don’ts” in the ideas we’ve expressed and our choices of words.
But with our current renewed focus on best practices for talking about costs with our clients, we are striving to deepen the knowledge, skills and confidence we need to have ever-more comfortable, productive conversations with you about the costs and affordability of the care we provide your pet.
Ultimately, we know these frank, good-faith conversations with you will lead to the best possible health outcomes for your pet—the primary goal we all share.
Balancing Care and Costs
When your pet requires diagnosis and treatment, we most often have more than one approach to offer. The various options may differ in terms of the complexity and invasiveness of testing and procedures and the expected short- and long-term health benefits. Affordability is almost always a concern.
There is seldom—if ever—a one and only option that is right for every owner and every pet. When we present you with treatment options, we know it can be hard to choose what’s best. In our next conversation about balancing care and costs, we encourage you to ask us about anything you don’t fully understand. We’ll do our best to explain not only estimated costs and exactly what you’ll be paying for, but how and why and to what degree we believe the various approaches can improve your pet’s health and wellbeing.
See our post, “Is Gold Standard Care Always the Best Option?” for much more information about how we tailor our cost-of-care conversations with you and make our recommendations about treatment options based on your and your pet’s individual needs and preferences.
The Cost-of-Care Conversation On Our Blog
“Research shows us that pet owners’ first association with veterinary care is money, and they want their veterinarian to have more proactive conversations with them around cost of care.”The American Veterinary Medical Association
If you follow our weekly blog, you know through our ongoing “Pet Care Costs” blog post series, we have long been proactive in acknowledging that veterinary care can be expensive—particularly for owners of multiple pets—and in helping you better understand and manage the costs of caring for your own pet. We’ve written numerous articles containing our best advice about—
- The overall financial obligations that come with pet ownership
- Cost-consciously choosing your next dog or cat
- How your regular, ongoing investment in timely preventive care is likely to improve your pet’s health and save you money in the long run
- Basic safety precautions to reduce the risk of illness and injury
- Sources of cash to pay for veterinary services
- Discussions of several crowdfunding platforms and charitable organizations offering grants to help pay vet bills
- A financial resources page on our main website providing links to nearly 40 charitable organizations offering grants to help qualified applicants cover veterinary medical costs
We strongly recommend pet insurance as a way to reduce the risk of substantial, unexpected veterinary bills that could cause financial hardship and compromise your pet’s care.
On the topic of insurance, we have chosen to disregard veterinary industry advice to us to pick one or two companies and recommend them to all our clients. Yes, that would be quick and easy and might even result in more coverage for more of our patients—definitely a good thing!
But based on what we know about pet insurance, recommending only one or two companies to all our clients would be a disservice. We’ve chosen instead to offer you the information you need to choose a pet insurance policy wisely and well.
We created our “Pet Insurance” series to empower you to make truly informed insurance buying decisions tailored to your own and your pets’ needs. We encourage you to review the series and give serious consideration to insuring your pet. The five-part series includes—
- Part 1. Understanding Pet Insurance
- Part 2. Narrowing Your Choice of Pet Insurance Companies
- Part 3. Setting Your Pet Insurance Priorities and Preferences
- Part 4. Value Shopping Pet Insurance Policies
- Part 5. Still Wondering if Pet Insurance Is for You?
We Want to Hear From You
The latest training materials from the AVMA are based on research conducted with pet owners who, presumably, represent a broad sampling of respondents. We know, when it comes to concerns about the cost of veterinary services, all pet owners have much in common and the results most likely apply to veterinary clients at any typical small animal practice, including ours.
Still, we’d like to know just what our own clients think.
On the emailed surveys we send you following your appointments, the tenth item measures your level of agreement with, “The quality of service and care given to your pet in relation to the associated cost was a good value.”
In your numerical rating, you can tell us your opinion of the cost-value relationship at Brownsburg Animal Clinic, and in the comments box, you can help us understand the thoughts and feelings behind the number you assign. Ideally, you will also give us your suggestions for doing better.