Growth in revenue and patient visits was less than that seen over the last few months in spite of the fact that August 2023 had one more workday than August 2022. August 2023 growth compared to August 2022 was 4.3% compared to 5.9% in July 2023 compared to July 2022. Revenue growth over the last year has hovered in the ~5%-7% range, and August 2023 is no different. Patient visit numbers declined 2.5% in August 2023 compared to August 2022 in spite of the extra work day in August 2023. New client numbers continue to decline as well.
Some practices are reporting a downward change in client acceptance of pet care recommendations due to the increasing cost of veterinary care and the ongoing uncertain economy; this is likely part of the decline in revenue growth. There’s also been an uptick in media attention to the cost of veterinary care as well with one article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram saying “…the cost of veterinary care can be prohibitively expensive” and another in USA Today discussing why Americans are taking their pets across the border to Mexico for veterinary care. The recent Synchrony Lifetime of Care Study reported that 1/3 of pet owners will face an unexpected pet expense that causes financial worry. Forty-five percent of dog owners and 38% of cat owners actually thought they were financially ready for pet expenses but found out they were not. For 25% of the pet owners in this study, an unexpected pet expenditure of just $250 causes financial stress. Another 21% said an expense of $251-$500 would cause stress, and 29% put the stress-causing cost at $501-$1,000. Only 26% of pet owners said they would not feel financial stress unless the unexpected pet expense was over $1,000.
I’ve talked in the past about some of the factors practices need to take into account when setting prices and some particular strategies that can be used. This month, we’ll talk about how to talk to clients about cost. Better cost conversations don’t miraculously give clients more money, but it can contribute to the value calculation they mentally go through when deciding what level of care to provide.
The AVMA launched a Language of Veterinary Care Initiative, funded in part by CareCredit and PetsBest Pet Health Insurance and based on research by Maslansky + Partners. One of the key findings from this research is that how the veterinary team specifically says things to clients during cost conversations can significantly influence the pet owners’ perceptions about the value and importance of veterinary care. Some of the findings are included below.
Pet owners want the veterinary team to address the cost of care head-on and demonstrate an understanding of clients’ concerns and a willingness to work with the pet owner with language such as:
· “Veterinary care is expensive. We can work with you to explore a full range of flexible care and treatment options to fit your budget.”
· “We can help you with payment options and other financial tools such as pet health insurance to afford veterinary care.”
· “There may be more than one treatment, medication, or procedure that can provide a good result.”
Scare tactics turn pet owners off—they have a negative response to words like “deadly” and “vulnerable.” Instead, they want a more positive approach. For example, say something like this: “It’s important to remember pets can’t communicate about their own health. Regular prevention can keep your pet healthy” instead of “We need to catch a problem before it has a chance to potentially become deadly.”
An overemphasis on technology and advances in care comes across as a sales pitch to pet owners; what they want to hear instead is what is best for their personal situation and that the veterinary team understands where they are coming from. A comment such as: “Based on all we know about your pet and our experience with these kinds of cases, this is the personalized care plan that we believe has the best chance of keeping your pet healthy and thriving” will have a much more positive impact on a pet owner compared to “Veterinary medicine has made incredible advances in the last decade, and we are proud to say that we can offer better care than ever before.”
Words such as “routine” and “regular” were better liked by pet owners instead of “yearly” or “frequently.” They also like “check-ups” better than “visits,” “wellness visits,” or “appointments.”
Bottom line, what pet owners want is a focus on their relationship with their pet and personalized recommendation for THIS pet, not all pets in general. They also do not want to be judged for their choices, even indirectly.
The above information is just a small part of the findings from the Language of Care research; more can be found at www.AVMA.org/LanguageOfCare. Other resources related to communicating with pet owners about cost are available at the Partners for Healthy Pets website (www.PartnersForHealthyPets.org) in the communications section.
Communication is a common theme when pet owners are asked about what is important to them in a veterinary clinic, and communication about money is a particularly important area for practices to focus on when dealing with an uncertain economy and increased prices in all sectors, including veterinary medicine.
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Karen E. Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, CVA of PantheraT Veterinary Management Consulting, www.PantheraT.com, provide data review and commentary.