Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
Preparing and presenting treatment plans is an important part of what veterinary technicians do every day. How you handle these plans will make the difference between clients accepting your recommendations or walking out the door.
Clients often have a difficult time understanding recommendations, especially if the plan involves diagnostics and procedures. It’s our job to explain services and help the pet owner understand the need for them. Client acceptance of recommended procedures is driven by their bond with the practice, trust in the team and clear communication.
Treatment plans can be overwhelming because of the amount of information included. That’s why you need to create a thorough, easy-to-understand format. To do this, evaluate the look and feel of your treatment plans. Consider moving from one all-inclusive plan to a two-plan approach. This creates a higher level of accuracy and improved communication. The client will have a better understanding of what may be needed to diagnose and treat the pet.
Start with a diagnostic plan. Include only items needed to make a diagnosis, such as an exam, lab work and X-rays. Once the veterinarian has made a diagnosis or determined rule-outs, a treatment plan should be developed. This plan is based on the best medical approach and is specific to the patient’s condition and needs. It may include:
- Medical procedures and treatments
- Follow-up labs
- Medical progress exams
Show the Fee Range
When preparing and communicating plans, offset a client’s unfamiliarity with the subject matter by:
- Avoiding vet-speak. Use terms that clients will understand.
- Clearly explaining the procedures or treatments and why they are necessary.
- Encouraging questions.
- Outlining the costs.
When it comes to fees, the client needs to understand that complications can upset even the most accurate treatment plan. Allow for some financial flexibility. A high-end, low-end estimate allows for quantity differences, dosage differences, additional hospitalization and extended surgery time.
The signature page should have a disclaimer stating that “fees may vary by 15 to 20 percent, based on additional services or products needed.”
Communicate to clients that you will notify them immediately with updates and to request authorization for any additional services.
Signing the plan is important when clients agree to move forward with recommended services. This way, there is no question that the services were explained, understood and authorized. If services are declined, document that fact as well. You may need to provide proof later that services were recommended but declined.
Be Confident, Relaxed and Friendly
Who delivers treatment plans in your practice? The doctor, technician, receptionist or whoever is available? Do you have a certain approach, or do you wing it every time? Clients look to the veterinary team for guidance, so how you communicate verbally and nonverbally is critical. Only team members who can answer clients’ medical questions should deliver a treatment plan.
Clients will not recognize an urgent medical matter or the need to accept recommendations if a plan is not presented in a confident and educated manner. Your approach should be relaxed and friendly. Clients should never feel pressure or guilt.
Train your team to understand and use appropriate body language, tone of voice and words. Avoid the temptation to email treatment plans unless you have arranged to go over each line item with the client. Otherwise, you may lose the opportunity to explain why each service is needed and the client is more likely to decline services.
Even with the best presentation, you will have resistant clients. Have a plan for dealing with these situations. Don’t assume that a pet owner who becomes quiet has a financial issue. More often than not, this is not the case. She may be processing what everything means for her pet. This is an opportunity to communicate with her rather than figure out how to adjust the treatment plan.
Know How to Respond
Try this catch-all question when you sense resistance: “Is there anything that concerns you other than the cost?” This question separates financial concerns from medical concerns and opens the door for further communication. This is your chance to make a difference.
How do you handle financial resistance in your practice? Here are a few examples:
Client: “Wow! The hospital down the street is way cheaper.”
Your response: “It may seem like all veterinary practices are the same, but when comparing costs for services it’s important to compare apples to apples. The costs I am outlining here include …”
Don’t address what the other hospital might or might not be doing. Highlight what your treatment plan includes and why.
Client: “This is more expensive than if I had it done at my doctor’s office.”
Your response: “I know it appears that way, but people typically have health or dental insurance to absorb most of our out-of-pocket costs. Without that insurance, the same procedure for us would be very expensive. I would be happy to get you some information on pet health insurance if that is something you are interested in for the future.”
Client: “I can’t afford this. There’s got to be something you can do to help, or are you guys only in this for the money?”
Your response: “Veterinary medicine has come a long way. We are so fortunate to be able to offer you this level of care. We have worked hard to keep our costs as low as we can.”
Offer Daily Updates
When you invest the time to hire good employees and teach them appropriate communication skills, they will have no trouble handling these client concerns. Communication is the key.
When a pet is hospitalized, three-pronged daily updates are necessary to keep the client informed.
- Comfort update: “Rosie did great overnight. She just had her breakfast,” or “She is resting comfortably and hasn’t vomited all day.”
- Medical update: “Her lab work came back and looks great. She will be able to go home today,” or “We need to do another blood test this morning to confirm that everything is normal.”
- Financial update: “We are right on track with the estimated charges,” or “The blood test will be an additional $42. Do we have your OK to do that?”
What happens in your practice when the invoice exceeds the estimate in the initial treatment plan? This shouldn’t happen if you did a good job preparing and presenting the plan. The final bill should never be a surprise. If we take the time to prepare a complete and accurate treatment plan and communicate changes along the way, clients will always know what to expect.
Everyone wins when treatment plans are based on best medicine and are communicated properly. Such a strategy is good for the patient, the client and the hospital.
Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a practice management consultant, speaker, writer and instructor for Patterson Veterinary University.