6 Steps To More Confident Cost-of-Care Conversations

Written by Angela Beal, DVM
cloud based veterinary software

Cost-of-care conversations can be challenging even for the most seasoned veterinary professional. A client’s mind and heart may clash as financial matters often hit the nerve between practical concerns and the pet-owner bond. Effective and frictionless conversations regarding the cost of a pet’s care require the veterinary team to anticipate and negotiate the fine line between empathy and professionalism, communicating what’s best for the patient without compromise or judgment. Consider these six practical tips for ensuring a professional, confident, and compassionate cost-of-care conversation. 

#1: Start early—begin talking about pet care costs at puppy and kitten visits 

The cost-of-care conversation should begin at your client’s first visit. Whether they’re a first-time pet owner or a returning client, each new pet comes with their own needs and potential health concerns. Ask clients if they’ve considered their pet’s projected lifetime care costs and provide information about resources  (e.g., CareCredit, Scratchpay, pet health insurance, clinic membership, preventive care plans) to help them offset or budget for those expected—and unexpected—costs. Informed pet owners will have time to think about and plan for their pet’s future, which can help avoid shock, financial strain, and pushback when their pet needs treatment. 

#2: Set the bar—ensure your veterinary practice policies reflect your core values 

When clients know what to expect from your practice, they’ll regard you with increased trust, loyalty, and comfort. Clear expectations and consistent care standards create predictable service and help improve compliance and attract like-minded clients. Rather than apologizing about pricing, stand on your practice’s commitment to providing the highest standard of care, cutting-edge technology, and personalized service. When clients can experience your mission statement in action, from the lobby to the exam room, you teach them to view their pet’s care as more than a price tag. 

#3: Lead with the benefits—talk in terms of veterinary care value 

Your clients don’t have the education and expertise to understand why you recommend a Chem 17 rather than a Chem 8—but they can understand the difference between what they’ve paid in the past and their pet’s current treatment plan. When they do not know the benefits or purpose behind their veterinarian’s recommendations, clients focus on their only reference point—price. 

Ensure your cost-of-care conversations focus on pets’ health benefits and the value of your services. The veterinarian should introduce their treatment plan’s goals to the client, and a technician or trained assistant reinforces the treatment’s benefits as they review the itemized treatment plan or estimate with the client. Inviting the client to understand the purpose and goal of each service or product helps them understand the treatment plan’s value and importance, rather than only the price tag. 

#4: Avoid surprises by offering bundled veterinary service estimates 

Being transparent and up-front about pricing helps minimize or prevent cost-of-care-related tension. In addition, by being clear about a pet’s needs and the established cost of care, your team will feel more confident while preparing and reviewing estimates with clients. Simplify treatment plan creation and minimize missed charges by linking or bundling related items and services, and designing estimate templates for your most frequently recommended procedures. By having on hand preset templates for general hospitalization and surgery, your team can save precious time and prevent your practice from charging more than the agreed-on amount or taking a loss.  

#5: Speak the same language—educate and empower your team to communicate veterinary care benefits 

Cost-of-care conversations are frequently the responsibility of veterinary technicians, assistants, and client service representatives (CSRs). As such, your practice’s most significant client communication responsibilities belong to the least prepared and sometimes least experienced team members. If these team members do not adequately understand when and why certain services are necessary or strongly recommended, they may exhibit a lack of confidence when presenting estimates to pet owners. Teach your entire team how to own these discussions by using everyday opportunities to communicate certain services’ value, such as: 

  • Sharing abnormal blood work results that revealed a hidden illness 

  • Reviewing dental X-rays that show severe periodontal disease below a grossly normal tooth crown 

  • Before creating a patient’s diagnostic workup estimate, have the veterinarian share their thought process and suspected differentials with the team member who will be presenting the treatment plan to the client   

#6: Know what’s behind the no—understanding a pet owner 

Veterinary professionals’ fear of rejection can often deter them from conducting successful cost-of-care conversations. In an effort to appease or avoid conflict, team members and veterinarians may resort to apologies, commiserating (i.e., agreeing that the cost is too high), or discounting their services. Alternatively, some team members may feel so pressured to succeed that they come off as overbearing. Unfortunately, these tactics can undermine the intended message, dismissing the treatment’s perceived value—or necessity. 

Rather than fearing that a client will decline their pet’s treatment or preventive diagnostic, take this opportunity to understand your client’s needs, their relationship with their pet, or their perception of their pet’s condition. In many cases, additional information or revisiting the facts about a pet’s prognosis may be all you need to gain a client’s consent or find an agreeable, attainable alternative. 

Finally, ensure your team that a no is an acceptable client response. This helps team members avoid feeling personally responsible, which can potentially cause them to inadvertently convey negative emotions during future cost-of-care conversations. 

Cost-of-care conversations may never feel comfortable or easy. However, by establishing consistent care standards, educating your team empathically, and emphasizing purpose—not price—these discussions should result in less team member stress and more veterinary practice success.