How to Talk to Your Veterinarian About Money

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It’s not easy. Talking to anyone about money –– much less your veterinarian –– is way low on anyone’s list of favorite endeavors. In fact, if your veterinarian is anything like me, she probably isn’t too keen on talking money either –– much less with you (no offense).

Nonetheless, talking frankly about finances in a veterinary setting is an uncomfortable reality we’ll inevitably confront if we want to do right by the animals that rely on us for optimal healthcare. After all, our pets depend on a healthy working relationship between both veterinarian and pet owner for sound decision-making about their care. And for better or worse (worse, usually), finances are often at the root of these healthcare decisions.

The rising cost of pet care –– on everything from routine wellness and high quality diets to specialized services and cutting-edge drugs –– means that most pet owners are at some point likely to find themselves confronting an uncomfortable scenario: The science and technology to help their pet is readily available … but the costs way outstrip their economic reach.

Despite this uncomfortable truth, pet owners can go a long way towards getting their pets the healthcare they need while mitigating their risk of financial exposure. The solution is simple: communication.

It’s true: Pet owners who are better able to communicate with their veterinarian offer their pets a greater chance of a good outcome. Which only makes sense. After all, everyone knows that communication is at the crux of every relationship. Trouble is, most pet owners don’t know how best to get there.

Sometimes it’s that veterinarians can be intimidating. Running in and out of exam rooms like headless chickens doesn’t help much either. These rapid-fire appointment schedules aren’t exactly conducive to healthy conversations.

Nonetheless, there are ways to get through… even to the busiest, most intimidating veterinarian. With that in mind, here are some veterinarian-approved tricks to building up a solid working relationship with your pet’s healthcare provider:

#1 Identify your goal

Finances are stressful because you’re effectively telling your veterinarian that a) your funds are limited (and that can be embarrassing, especially if you’ve just lost your job, you’re going through a healthcare crisis of your own, or your house is in foreclosure), or b) given your financial limitations, your priorities don’t necessarily include certain aspects of your pet’s healthcare. The goal in these cases is to more easily navigate otherwise stressful discussions over what pet healthcare costs and the risks associated with minimizing your expenses.

#2 Make nice with the front office staff

If you treat the reception staff with the respect they deserve, they’ll mirror your attitude and become increasingly responsive to your needs and desires. I find that getting extra-friendly with a heartfelt thank you or inexpensive little gifts of food can go a long way.

In fact, though they may be invisible to you, I promise you’ll get perks when you behave like you believe in the importance of their work and reward them for it. These perks can include anything from freebies and last-minute appointment slots to discounts you don’t see and faster callbacks from your veterinarian. You’d be surprised at the power these “gatekeepers” hold.

#3 Leverage the vet tech’s knowledge base

Making friends with the technician not only gives you plenty of the same perks the reception staff offers, it helps ensure your pet gets extra-great attention. What’s more, veterinary technicians usually possess a treasure trove of some of the same information your veterinarian provides.

Which means that pumping the tech for info on finances can absolutely help you out. After all, most techs have been in your shoes.

#4 Don’t be afraid to get personal

While plenty of veterinarians prefer you not go there, getting to know your veterinarian more personally paves the way for better communication. But where to start so you don’t overstep your bounds? Asking about their own pets is a great ice-breaker and typically leads to more relaxed conversations and greater mutual trust should you get into financial hot water at some point in the future.

#5 Speak up early and often

Going through a tough financial time? Speak up. Explain that your goals are to know all your options and what their risks and benefits might be. Ask your veterinarian for the “Cadillac” plan and the “used car” plan and the steps in between so you can make the best possible decision.

Moreover, letting your veterinarian know where you are financially means we’ll almost certainly find ways to cut your expenses. It’ll also make us more amenable to questions like, “Can I get this drug or product online or at my local pharmacy?”

#6 Ask your vet: "What would you do if this were your pet?"

I hate this question when my clients ask it, but it probably helps them make better decisions. After all, knowing how your veterinarian would treat her own pet in the same scenario goes a long way towards understanding the most measured and balanced approaches to the problem you face. What’s more, it gives them one more opportunity to impart personal information. And as I said in #4, getting more personal almost always makes for a better long-term relationship.