Boo Larsen is a senior vice president and the general manager of veterinary and pet care at CareCredit.Read Articles Written by Boo Larsen
While reports of inflation’s impact have focused on the skyrocketing costs of food, housing and fuel, pet owners have even more to worry about when it comes to balancing their budgets. Overall veterinary prices are rising dramatically due to medical advances and the rising costs of labor, drugs, supplies and diagnostics. In fact, the mean annual cost for a dog’s veterinary visit has jumped by more than 60% in two years, from $224 to $362.
And pet owners are starting to feel it. In a recent survey, more than 75% of those questioned said inflation has increased their costs to keep their pets well, while 26% said they were struggling to pay for their pets’ care, forgoing or delaying treatments that are proactive or elective.
While veterinarians have effective techniques to help manage their patients’ stress and fear, it’s becoming apparent they need proven skills to address their clients’ anxiety around the affordability of pet care. To that end, Synchrony Pet worked with the American Veterinary Medical Association to develop the “Language of Veterinary Care” guide to help veterinarians and practice teams become comfortable with and confident in having cost conversations with pet owners and build healthy financial relationships with them. In short, words matter, and there’s often a disconnect between what is said and heard.
Through a series of in-depth interviews with veterinarians, veterinary technicians and pet owners, the AVMA explored the words veterinarians and technicians use to talk about costs. What followed was the development of a set of guidelines to help practice teams better speak “pet owner” — the right language, framing and tone.
Here are some of the highlights.
Try for More Transparency
The main frustration for pet owners around cost goes beyond the price tag. They want more than a list of procedures and the associated cost on an estimate. They also want a dialogue about what they’re paying for, why the veterinarian recommends it and the medical value for their pet. Walking clients through a personalized care plan and breaking down the costs incurred at each stage can go a long way in helping them feel that you are working with them to ensure every dollar spent is worthwhile and necessary.
Additionally, having proactive and positive conversations through each stage of a pet’s life can help clients be financially prepared to manage the costs. Resources such as Synchrony’s Lifetime of Care Study can support those critical conversations and allow pet owners to better budget for long-term care.
Tread Carefully When Talking About New Medical Advancements
According to pet owners, emphasizing the veterinary industry’s incredible advances does not speak to their situation. Rather than using terms like “best equipment” or “state-of-the-art technology” to justify increased costs, it’s important to give pet owners the confidence that they’re paying only for what they need. Instead, explain the intention behind the path of care you are taking for a pet, making clear that the cost is a necessary part of the equation to get to the best health outcome. If you demonstrate compassion by reassuring clients that you are carefully balancing care and cost, based on the pets’ specific needs, you’ll feel more like you are collaborating with the owners.
Beware the Menu of Options
While veterinarians have the best intentions when offering spectrum-of-care choices, avoid framing the multiple care paths based on cost so as to be sensitive to different pet owners’ budgets and financial priorities. Clients hear: “Platinum, gold or silver — how good of a pet parent are you?” In their minds, that can sound like veterinarians equate the highest price tag with the best care, which might not be something they can afford in the moment. They want to know that regardless of which care path they choose, the veterinarian is working to find a solution that’s right for them and their pets. Options do, however, serve an important secondary role for pet owners expressing concerns about the cost of a recommended treatment. One pet owner concurred: “I like them calling out other things they can do. The little details remind me they are thinking about my situation.”
Communicate a Range of Payment Solutions
Knowing that clients are often concerned about costs, sharing spectrum-of-payment options your hospital provides can help pet owners feel more financial flexibility than they might imagine. This includes easy access to financing and pet health insurance. Such solutions can give pet owners the peace of mind that they can fit the care their pets need into their budgets, even during times of financial uncertainty. When veterinarians proactively provide solutions, pet owners say it reinforces veterinarians as caring partners in their pets’ health. In their mind, they hear: “We can figure this out together. We’re in this for the long haul.”
Say “Budget” Instead of “Cost”
Some veterinarians indicated they avoid bringing up costs altogether to avoid coming off as “selling” the client or even penny-pinching. One helpful approach could be for a veterinarian to focus on the pet owner’s budget, not just the treatment’s costs, which can instill confidence in the veterinarian and signal a helpful, client-focused approach. The research showed that this helped clients prioritize what was in their pets’ best interest and communicated that their veterinarians were “in it with them.”
The good news is, the research showed pet owners across the board have good relationships with their veterinarians, value their expertise, and appreciate all they do for the health of their pets. A subtle and effective reframing around the cost conversation can help give both parties more comfort and ensure the best possible health outcomes for the pets in their care.