Ask Emily: How to discuss treatment plans

November 23, 2020
Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP

Emily Shiver, CVPM, is practice manager at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida.

My veterinary team is very uncomfortable going over treatment plans. What tools can I give them to be more successful?

Our team at dvm360.com and Firstline magazine asked practice manager Emily Shiver to answer your questions about life in practice for managers, technicians, assistants, client service receptionists and more. Got a question for her? Email us at firstline@mmhgroup.com.

Let’s face it. Many clients are extremely emotional— especially about finances— often making discussing treatment plans an arduous task. Here are some proven tips that will help you present these plans like a pro:

  • Familiarize yourself with the treatment plan before discussing it.
  • Sit next to or kneel beside the clients so that you are at eye-level with them.
  • Go over the treatment plan line by line.
  • Use terms the clients will understand and be descriptive with your explanations.
  • Once you finish discussing the plan, ask the client if they have any questions or concerns.

In a perfect world, the pet owner would respond positively, sign the treatment plan, and allow you to begin treating their pet. 7 out of 10 times— this is not the case— especially in an emergency situation. However, don’t panic—all is not lost. Instead of being intimidated, be empathetic. Let them know that you are committed to working through the treatment plan with them.

Here are some common client concerns about treatment plans and what to do about them.

Financial concerns

  • Review all payment options with clients. (CareCredit, ScratchPay).
  • Prospectively, the doctor can have a Plan A or Plan B.
  • Be transparent about additional costs throughout treatment duration and the potential for recurrence. I do caution you at this step. I say this in my practice weekly—a feline urinary obstruction is a lot different than a laceration repair. If the client scrapes together the money to catheterize and hospitalize their pet, there is no guarantee they won’t be dealing with this same issue in 4 to 6 weeks. Make sure you have this conversation with them before moving forward with the initial treatment.

Treatment concerns

  • Walk them through the steps of the treatment in detail.
  • Discuss potential outcomes.

Fear of judgement

Try saying the following empathetic statements to calm you client’s fears:

  • “I know this is a hard decision, I am here to support you.”
  • “I share your concerns about Taylor. I will provide all the information you need to make an informed decision.”
  • “It sounds like you are overwhelmed with the options I have presented to you. I am committed to being by your side as you make this decision. How can I help?”
  • Additionally, if euthanasia is a humane option, then include it in your treatment plan options.

Presenting treatment plans with empathy and compassion helps to eliminate some of the stress of this delicate discussion. It also potentially erases the “all you care about is money” connotation. Remember to never pressure or guilt your clients into making a decision. The goal is to work together to achieve the best possible outcome for their pets.

Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, is practice manager at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida.