Heard It On The Radio

Katherine Dobbs discusses veterinary data she heard on the radio.

Many pet owners say they would do "anything" for their pets. But will they?

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The other day I'm driving in my car, listening to my favorite morning radio program, and the DJ starts talking about a survey of pet owners performed by VPI* (Veterinary Pet Insurance). The first bit of data nearly made me choke—it reported that 70 percent of pet owners say "I will do whatever it takes…"

I kept listening. What is "whatever"? Well as they broke down the remaining 30 percent into money categories (some would pay up to $5,000, some would pay up to $1,000, and others may only pay up to $500) it became clear that they were talking about a financial investment in the health of their pets. So obviously, that 70 percent of pet owners would pay "whatever it takes" for their pets' sake.

Now I don't know about you, but this statistic flies in the face of most of what I've seen in veterinary medicine. In fact, I often joke that if a pet owner says "Do whatever it takes, money is not an issue," it's because they don't intend to pay you anyway! (Sadly, this is from being burned from past history.) We understand that families have to prioritize their money.

With the "petcession" that we've felt from the national REcession, we've seen more and more families choose euthanasia, or deny the top-notch care we discuss as the first and best option. We are left knowing we can help, without being able to because of the family's financial situation. We get that, and we're doing our best to help where we can, even when we can't help every family.

So you can imagine, this data on the radio really intrigued me; I just didn't get where the disconnect lied. As I thought more about it, it became obvious that the problem is, when asked that question, most pet owners do not know how much "whatever" costs! Sure they think the sky's the limit, but was it made obvious to them that "whatever" meant more than $5,000?

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Those survey statistics were shocking, and rather unbelievable, but what happened next on the air was just plain sad. Listeners began calling in, talking about how their vets wanted $600 just to find out WHAT was the matter with their pets.

When a listener called in about a pet needing endoscopy, and then turned out the animal needed surgery, one of the DJs said that the veterinarian should have given them a discount (from $800 down to $300) if they chose to move forward. WHAT? Do they understand how low our profit margin is in vet med? Do they see veterinarians living in mansions, or support staff driving brand new sports cars? Hardly. We're fortunate if we can pay for our family to go the movie every so often.

So obviously, there is a total disconnect between what WE know, and what the pet owners THINK they know, regarding the financial part of vet med. How do we bridge that gap? Not necessarily by explaining to them how much good quality vet care costs, but by demonstrating the value of their dollar in the way we treat the people and pet while they are with us.

Sometimes I give the analogy of buying a purse to illustrate what I mean. Sure, you could go into WalMart, look through their vast array of purses thrown up on the shelves and take it up and pay (after they've looked inside to be sure you aren't shoplifting). They throw the purse in a plastic baggie, and off you go. You likely paid $15-$30 tops.

Or you could go into your local Coach store. You have a salesperson helping you immediately and answering any questions you have, while also giving their opinion about what looks good. When you've made your choice and paid, they sit you down on a luxurious couch in the middle of the store. A few minutes later your salesperson arrives. Your purse is giftwrapped in a special box, put in a handsome bag with a handle, and off you go…Oh, then at home you notice, if this is your first Coach purse, the satin bag inside the box where you can store your purse to keep it from harm. How much did you pay? Well, likely $200-$350, but you also felt the difference between the stores, the quality and experience difference, and you feel like you got your money's worth.

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I'm not saying we need to send every patient home in a satin bag, but if we give the pet owner the satin experience…well, like this:

Annual Exam:  $50
Rabies vaccination: $20
Catching the cat: 2 scratches and a crawl under the bed
Love for Fluffy?    Priceless

*Attempts at locating the survey through VPI were not successful, so this is my remembrance of the information mentioned on the radio.

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