I hate talking about money.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can geek out over portfolio diversity and the power of compound interest. But when it comes to the clinic, I’d be happy to never say a word about money again. Most veterinary professionals I know would agree with me. Talking to clients about finances can be dicey.
There’s the problem of dealing with clients who don’t want to pay for the service we provide, or more common still, the client who can’t pay for the service their pet needs. And far too often, we run into the situation of having to make medical decisions for our patients based on finances. Economic euthanasia is one of the worst parts of the job.
Let’s face it, vet med would be much easier if we took the money out of it. But until I catch up to Mark Zuckerberg or Warren Buffet in the net worth category and can finance thousands of no-cost veterinary clinics all over the country, money will continue to be an issue in veterinary medicine.
And here’s the problem — if we stick our heads in the sand and try to pretend our jobs are just about the medicine while ignoring the money factor, we’re setting ourselves and our clients up for failure. And I don’t know about you, but I hate failure; especially when it’s my patients I’m failing.
Now, you might say that it’s not your job to figure out how your clients are going to pay for their pet’s health care. And you may believe, understandably so, that it’s the clients’ job to do their research and make a plan for emergency situations. And that’s true.
But you know what our job is? It’s to educate pet owners on how to take care of their pets. And like it or not, taking care of pets requires big bucks. So why aren’t more of us talking about money preventatively? Just like we don’t want to wait until a pet has been diagnosed with heartworm to talk about heartworm, we shouldn’t wait until a client is in the ER facing a $5000 estimate, to talk about the cost of veterinary care.
Do you know what the average yearly cost to own a pet is? Yeah, me either. I tried to find it for the sake of this article but to no avail. There are estimates for the average cost of routine preventative care. And estimates for the average cost of a single emergency. And those are good starts. But most of us never even breach those numbers with our clients until it’s time for them to pay up. And it doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of dental care, non-emergent acute health issues like UTIs, or chronic conditions like atopy.
And yes, I know it’s hardly a simple matter of giving clients a number. Even if we figure out the “average” it doesn’t mean we have the slightest idea what a lifetime, or even just the next year, of veterinary care is going to cost for an individual pet. An Irish Wolfhound’s medication is going to cost a lot more than a Yorkie’s. A pet in New York City is going to have vet bills that far exceed those of a pet living in rural Alabama. And some clients are going to opt for treatment well above and beyond what the “average” pet owner would consider.
But how can we expect our clients to budget properly for their pet’s care if we don’t even give them an idea of what that budget needs to be? If we continue to hoard information on the cost of care in fear of over or underestimating, then clients are going to continue to be unprepared when the time comes to pony up the money for their vet visit. Pair that with the emotional upheaval of experiencing an emergency with their pet, and it’s no wonder clients lash out. I’m not condoning the abusive, bullying tactics of some pet owners, but let’s face it, during times of emotional stress and fear, people can get a little crazy. And we have the power to prevent that —at least some of the time — by better preparing our clients for the financial reality of pet ownership. Just think how many lop-sided news features could have been avoided if the family in the story had just known ahead of time that emergency clinics don’t offer payment plans?
So, the next time a client comes in with a new puppy or kitten, we need to do more than just educate them on vaccines and parasite prevention. We should do more, even, than suggest pet insurance (though that’s a step in the right direction). The preventative care talk we have at those new patient and client visits needs to include a candid conversation about the financial impact of pet ownership. We owe it to our clients, our patients, and ourselves to make money a part of preventative care.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Smith is a 2008 graduate of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed her clinical rotation at Cornell University before returning to Long Island to enter general small animal practice. Dr. Smith is a pet mom to a blue-eyed poodle mix named Frankie and a very needy cat named Charlie. She is also an aunt to a smart, funny, strong-willed niece.
Dr. Smith is the creator of The Vetitude; a website and social media presence that promotes empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence in veterinary medicine. You can find out more at thevetitude.com