Gold standard care. I use this phrase on a regular basis to encourage my teams to educate clients on what options they have for diagnostics, as well as treatment for their pets.
You see, for many it has become almost a culture to pass judgement or even make decisions for our clients in regard to which path they should take for their furry friends. I want to dig into this further and get to the root of some of these issues.
Stop passing judgement
My definition of gold standard care is providing your clients the opportunity to gain the knowledge they need to make an informed medical decision for their pets. When I visit practices, I see quite the opposite happen on an absolute regular basis. Clients are judged. I have heard technicians and doctors say there is no way they can afford something. Who are we to judge what someone can or cannot afford for their pets?
When I was young and just starting out, I spent more than $15,000 on my pet goat. That’s right, a goat! I was 22 years old and, yes, I had to finance it, but you know what, she was worth it and I would do it again.
It might have taken me years to pay it off, but I could rest easy knowing I did everything I could for her, and I gave her an opportunity to live her life out comfortably. I refer to Abby’s story often when I am coaching doctors, especially.
We should never judge a person on age, looks, what they drive, or how they smell (yes, I said it). I have stood in exam rooms with paint- and dirt-covered people who came out of the rusty, beat-up truck in the parking lot. I presented them with an estimate based on the gold standard care their pet needed and they pulled cash out of their pocket to pay for it in full right there.
Likewise, I have also had the other side of that experience—their vehicle of choice was a Porsche but were not financially able to perform the diagnostics presented to them for a basic ailment. We do not know each person’s situation, and this is not our place. Our place is to educate the client on the potential diagnosis and options for diagnostic and treatment—judgement free.
Why are relief doctors so successful?
What’s interesting to me in the position I am in now is the ability to track average doctor transactions. What I found is doctors who are actually on the payroll at a practice routinely have a lower (sometimes significantly) average doctor transaction than relief doctors who fill in. This did not make sense to me.
They have the same staff, the same building, the same clients, but they are achieving client buy-in and gold standard care. My perception was the relief doctor does not have an emotional connection to those clients and does not feel the burden of “spending their money.” I asked a really good friend who works relief regularly how this could be.
Her response was as a relief doctor, you have one shot to try to get answers and provide the best diagnosis possible because you may never see the pet again, and you are not sure what the follow-up care will be like. This makes sense to me. We should be thinking about this every single time though! We may recommend a follow up appointment/care, but the client may never show again.
I go back to Abby’s story, and as a pet owner, I want to know what all of my options are. I do not want my dog to suffer with vomiting and diarrhea for another two or three days because the doctors offered me some medication instead of getting to the root of the problem and figuring out what is really going on. My pets are my entire life; I do not have children. When I select my veterinarian, I select my veterinarian because they educate me on all of my options to provide the best care possible for my pets.
Let the clients make medical decisions
What has to be one of the most puzzling moments for me is when a client is educated about a purely preventable disease, that is prevented by something as simple as a vaccine or another type of preventative, they determine yes, my pet is at risk and opt to move forward with that prevention—then, the veterinarian comes in and talks the client right out of precisely what could potentially save its life. Unbelievable.
This is not a personal opinion or what you would do for your pet. It truly needs to be: here are the risks, is your pet exposed, here are your options, and potential risks of that prevention. Ultimately, though, it should be the client’s decision and the medical team should support that client.
Leverage your technicians
Discussing finances in relation to treatment options is sometimes uncomfortable for doctors. If this is the case in your practice, take them out of the equation. Leverage your technician team to go in and explain vaccines or lab work or even potential diagnostics for the more common issues.
For the sick ones, I encourage the doctors to create a plan A and a plan B, at least. The technicians put together an estimate for plan A first and present it to the client. If the client gives the green light—perfect.
If the client has financial concerns, this is when your team goes into action. Offer them different financing options, or potentially ask what their budget is. At this time, the technician can present plan B or go back to the doctor if they have any questions. This really takes the emotional piece out of it for the doctors. The technicians can present these estimates in a confident manner and also immediately provide them with different options if there are concerns. This has been very successful for me, especially when the doctors are very sensitive to spending a client’s money.
Shifting the mind
This mind shift is not going to happen overnight. The first step in bringing attention to this problem is looking at some recent appointments that have been through your practice. Are you seeing pets with ear infections and not running ear cytologies? Are you seeing pets with urinary issues and not offering them a urinalysis or even a radiograph if it’s been going on for a while? What about vomiting and diarrhea in a little Yorkie that eats from the table daily—are you checking for pancreatitis?
Gather the data and prepare to have a conversation with your doctors. It may seem uncomfortable, especially if you are not a doctor yourself. I would come at it from the perspective of, “If this was my pet, I would want to know my options and provide the best treatment I can.”
If this hits home for you, and you get super frustrated watching this happen in your practice you are not alone. The great news—you can change this culture and give your clients a voice. Empower your clients to make informed medical decisions for their pets. Get rid of the judgement! I urge you to start the dialogue with your team today!
Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, CVBL, is a certified veterinary practice manager serving as the Florida regional director of operations for Family Vet Group. Her passion is creating and maintaining positive, successful workplace cultures, as well as helping practices increase revenue and the client experience. Shiver enjoys every aspect of inventory and strives to help practices meet and exceed their inventory goals. She and her husband reside in Lakeland, Fla., with their two Patterdale terriers and a few other furry family members.