Pet insurance 101: Talk to your clients before they are in crisis

One of the best ways to stop feeling like a “sales person” and start practicing medicine the way you want to is to have the conversations about pet insurance and pet wellness plans long before you’re ever having to discuss treatment options over a client’s critically ill pet.

That’s the conclusion Dr. Michelle Larsen draws from her experience as a critical-care clinician in Arizona. Dr. Larsen is one of the veterinarians we use to speak on our behalf to veterinary students, and that’s because she brings a perspective that not all that many in our community can boast: Veterinary medicine is her second career, following a successful one in finance.  AVMALShe was in leadership positions in the student VBMA, and she landed one of our VPI externships while at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. As you can see from the picture at right, we’re not the only ones to notice her leadership potential.

Dr. Larsen is passionate about veterinary medicine, and about our profession. And she is thoughtful about the challenges we face, as evidenced in her recent blog post:

As an emergency clinician, sometimes speaking with a client can be more difficult than general practice for the following reasons:

— We have little or no client-patient relationship or history.
— Clients are stressed because their pet/family member is suddenly sick.
— We typically require payment in full, which ranges from $250-$1500 for many cases.

Over time, if you truly love emergency you find ways to connect with clients quickly, build trust, and treat their pet. Sometimes, however, our message of caring gets lost while attempting to offer the “gold-standard” and collect payment.

Recently, my clinic recently received a disheartening and constructive Yelp review from a client who earns a living in sales. His pet was seen for first-time seizures on emergency. This client was very upset after watching their family member suffer from two seizures. The client was approached with a “gold-standard” diagnostic plan and overnight monitoring for seizures at $1500. The next step is where we failed in client communication, or did we?

The situation Dr. Larsen writes about was the topic of much discussion at an informal gathering of VBMA student leaders VPI hosted on the eve of the AVMA Convention in Denver last month.  Over dinner, Dr. Larsen related how much the Yelp review that followed hit her in the heart, especially when she was doing everything she could to help a sick pet and the people who brought the animal in.

The fact is, without pet insurance many veterinarians are in a no-win situation, as Dr. Larsen recognizes:

One way out of this dilemma is to promote methods of payment away from discretionary income. By advocating for pet insurance and wellness plans, the client plan becomes less money-focused and the “gold-standard” medical focus re-emerges without the haggle of a deal.

For critical-care specialists, there’s no chance to have this conversation. As Dr. Larsen points out in her post, it’s too late for pet insurance to help people who don’t have it when an animal is in a life-or-death situation at an emergency practice. But it’s not too late for most pet owners today, and as members of the veterinary community we need make sure we have that conversation before we have ones like the one Dr. Larsen writes about — as well as a bad Yelp review that could hurt your business as well as your feelings.

A little more than a year ago, we worked with the folks at DVM360 on an article that offered suggestions on how to bring up the subject with pet owners. The advice is still good:

“Every single day, without a doubt, money plays into the decisions pet owners make about their pets, and it limits the care clients can offer,” says Dr. Andy Roark, a veterinarian who practices in Greenville, S.C., and who is the founder and managing director of the veterinary consulting firm Tall Oaks Enterprises. “It’s a tragedy when we’re not able to do what’s best for the pet because the owner doesn’t have the money.”

Find out those 10 easy ways to bring up the subject and help your clients make sure their pets are getting the best care you can give them.  Click here for the article.

And thank you, Dr. Larsen, for advancing the conversation in our veterinary community.