How to Handle Questions and Complaints About Rising Veterinary Care Costs

By VHMA Admin posted 16 days ago

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Why is the cost of veterinary care so high?

It’s a question no one enjoys being asked. It’s also a question for which it may not be possible to satisfy the person asking it, no matter how good an answer you give.

Pet owners are understandably flummoxed by the recent rise in the cost of caring for their pets. Although pet insurance does exist, the vast majority of pet owners pay for veterinary care out of their own pockets. When a person doesn’t feel well, most of the time they are able to communicate how they feel.  There is no way for your pet to tell you, “I’m fine, don’t worry about it,” or “I think it’s time to see the doctor.”

When our pets don’t seem right, we take them to the veterinarian, and we are going to pay whatever it takes. This is a big contributing factor to why people feel helpless and frustrated by the rising costs.

Responding to the question of rising costs requires a combination of knowledge, patience, empathy, and tact.

Let’s consider some basic facts: consumers are spending more on veterinary care. Many factors contribute to this, including higher drug costs, demand for more expensive treatments (even chemotherapy and MRIs), rising costs of equipment and supplies, higher wages, rising costs of real estate to pay for facilities . . . and larger overall demand.

Anyone who wants to explain the rising costs of vet care can make a strong case that it’s not the result of greed on the part of veterinarians.

How do you handle being confronted by people who are upset regarding the cost of veterinary care?

Let’s consider a few scenarios:

The angry in-office customer. Many of us have probably already experienced this one. When collecting the fees or handing an invoice to a dog or cat owner who is already stressed about the issue affecting their pet, and then they become agitated by the total they have to pay.

We are all unfortunately accustomed to hearing statements like: “It never used to cost this much! This is highway robbery!” or “Glad I am paying for the doctor’s car.”

Don’t take it personally. Make sure the person knows pricing is based on the cost of inventory, the desire to pay people fairly, and the need to keep the operation running.

“We charge only what we have to charge to care for the animals and to keep things running,” one can say.

If the person demands to know the reasons for the increased fees, going through the reasons above is a good option. Usually, clients just want to hear that you empathize. It’s when people think we don’t care how they’re affected by something that they really get upset.

It is also helpful to actually have a copy of an industry article to hand out, or a handout created by your veterinary practice; which walks readers through the rationale for the increases within the industry. This removes the clinic personally from the debate and provides the individual with a bit of a diversion.

The online crusader. Social media is the perfect place for indignant people to affirm each other’s anger, and often facts play little part in the conversation.

The best thing to do when getting caught up in an online debate is to make a simple statement like, “Veterinarians don’t want to charge more. They are just trying to cover their own costs.” Then back it up by linking to an article that explains why costs have risen so much.

It won’t necessarily satisfy everyone. They might come back with personal stories of a particular veterinarian that they’re sure is gouging everyone. There is no way to respond factually to claims like that. Putting solid facts out there will speak for itself for anyone willing to hear them.

The media exposé. A good reporter, if assigned a story about rising veterinary costs, will probably spend some time covering the factors we mentioned above. It’s not hard to envision a story, especially on TV, that offers little more than five-second video clips of frustrated pet owners and virtually no context to explain why prices are rising.

Is it worthwhile to respond to stories like this? Absolutely.

Most media these days offer comment sections for people to voice their opinions. In the case of the well-researched, even-handed story; veterinary practices should add comments that they appreciate the information about why costs are rising and assure readers and viewers that they’re limiting their price increases as much as they can while still remaining viable.

In the case of the story that plays high on emotion and low on facts, veterinary practices should be polite and professional – but also pointed – in sharing links (like the one referenced above) that fill in the context the story missed.

Creative Pricing Strategies

There are always ways to tweak pricing to ease the pain for customers while still proving advantageous for a business. Consider bundling strategies that many technology companies use that offer customers the opportunity to save money if they buy more than one service at a time, similar to cable TV and internet services bundled together.

Letting people know about special pricing offers will help ease their frustration over the increase in the other prices. Some people might look elsewhere for better prices, but the increases are affecting everyone, and you will almost certainly gain an appreciation for at least making an effort to help people save some money.

People want to be heard and understood when they feel the pain of these increases. Listening and being as up-front as possible about why the cost of care has increased is the best way to make them feel respected and valued.

Prices of everything are rising these days and people have reluctantly adjusted. Most will do so in the matter of veterinary care as well. This is especially hard on pet owners. Hearing directly that their veterinary practice cares about them will go a long way toward easing the tension and getting them on board with the idea that we can all get through this together.

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Article of Interest

Posted on behalf of the Ethics Committee.