Should we discuss the costs of care for sick pets with our clients? - DVM
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Should we discuss the costs of care for sick pets with our clients?


  • Many of us haven't thought about it.
  • We don't like discussing money with our clients.
  • This topic may not be perceived as a warm and fuzzy bonding experience when we are trying to foster a relationship with the pet owner.
  • We are not motivated that it's our problem.
  • We don't see direct economic value to client education as we do with neuter/vaccines.
  • We fear a candid discussion of the costs of medical care may alienate the client, or detract from your image as a caring doctor.

I've got news for the answers to questions 1 and 2 above. This is our problem, and it's not going to get better by ignoring it.

Professional excuses After the session at WVC, numerous colleagues made the following comments regarding this controversial contention:

  • "I didn't go to vet school to sell insurance." In my opinion, we sell medical services every day to our clients. Hopefully, we do so by our conviction of what is truly best for their pet. Yes, you "sell" neuters, vaccines, flea products and medical services. You do so because you believe in the value of these services.
  • "You don't see pediatricians warning mothers to start saving money for their baby's imminent ear infections." That's true; pediatricians don't have to worry about this, because far more of their clients (parents) have insurance coverage for their children, than our clients do for their pets. Yet, we don't give our clients the benefit of knowing that insurance even exists!
  • "I don't have the time to discuss this with my clients." Make the time, and divert flea control and neutering discussions to your staff.
  • "If I take the time to discuss this, my clients won't listen, and they won't change their behavior." Based on this premise, your physician should not concern him/herself with your obesity, smoking, work hours, stress and other lifestyle issues having a detrimental effect on your health. After all, he/she's not a counselor, right?
  • "I do tell my clients at the time of referral to be prepared to spend a few thousand dollars."

From my viewpoint, this is like telling someone it's going to hurt after you've ripped off the Elastikon bandage from his hairy skin. Your clients need to start saving for that PU surgery, ACL tear, or splenic tumor when the pet is young.

The solution I believe it's time for a new paradigm in which all general practitioners take greater responsibility for your clients' inabilities to cope with the ever-increasing costs of sick care for their pets.

No, you are not responsible for putting their money under a mattress or advising them on investments. Yes, many of them will ignore this valuable, and life-saving advice. So what? Many clients decline your annual dental prophies, yet I hope you don't stop offering them if you feel they are necessary.

Letting your clients know that insurance and credit plans exist, and that the cost of a major illness can run thousands of dollars, is your obligation as a responsible family doctor. Although my hospital carries credit and insurance brochures in the lobby, for most clients, the initial exposure to the veterinary medical system is through their visit to the general practitioner for vaccines.

Consider how your valuable time is spent with your patients in the first six months of their lives, and which subjects will have the greatest impact on their ultimate longevity and quality of life.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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