Pet health insurance: Talking with veterinary clients


Dr. Wooten: The obvious beneficiary of pet insurance is obviously the pets, but there are significant wins for pet owners as well as veterinary practices, so let’s talk a little bit about that. Danielle, how are diagnostic and treatment conversations with clients different when the pet is insured?

Ms. Russ: We’re going to lead into those conversations the same way we do whether the pet is insured or not. We’re going to lead with what is best care for their pet and the best option. Ultimately though, it is going to come around to having a financial discussion and how that’s going to look for them for their financial responsibility for that care.

Ultimately, we find that those pets that do have pet insurance those clients are ready to go ahead and sign on the bottom line and move forward with care, and those conversations are shorter. Certainly, when they’re not, they often can lead to more in-depth discussions or often coming back to plans B, C, and D that Bash referenced earlier.

Mr. Halow: Can I just add something to that? Even though it’s not my question I wanted to add to it. We did this thing at this practice where it was during dental month and we offered payment plans. It wasn’t pet insurance obviously, but it was about payment plans. We told the technicians that if clients look like they were going to balk at getting the dentistry for their pet, we could offer them a payment plan. When we checked our numbers at the end of dental month, we had tripled our dental compliance. I was like, that’s amazing, what happened? All the technicians were like, it was those payment plans, man, that’s what really sealed the deal.

I turned to the client care representatives and I said, 'how many payment plans had we written?' We’d written zero payment plans, and it was just the freedom, technicians and doctors knew that they could talk about those services without worrying about money and they were much more successful at those conversations.

I wanted to add that when you said we start those conversations the same way with or without pet insurance, I don’t know if we do. I go back to money colors the way that we talk about what it is we do, and when you’re free of that, I don’t know, you’re much more willing to tell them what you really think they should do.

Ms. Russ: I do think it comes ultimately to empowering your team to feel confident in what they are recommending. Definitely, in our hospital, we do have that culture of where they do really believe in the value to what we’re recommending. I do think that’s how then you’re going to approach it.

Ultimately as well, I'm lucky that about five years ago, I definitely got really heavy into the pet insurance band wagon and started going out to our referring hospitals and just asking them, ‘How are you talking about pet insurance?’ I found many of them were not talking about it or they were just throwing brochures at clients, so we just started talking about let’s have this dialogue.

While we have found that nationally still only about 2% to 3% of pets are insured, we are continuing to see an uptick over the last five years of pets that are insured that hit our referral and emergency hospital, which has just been really good for not only, of course, the pets and the clients, but ultimately for my team as a whole. They really see the benefit of that and that makes their job much more satisfying to them every day.

Mr. Halow: You’re going out and training the practices that refer to you, you're training their team members how to talk about it?

Ms. Russ: I go out and wanted to start a dialogue with them and find out what they were doing and broaching the idea that I do think this is a long-term solution that’s going to benefit the entire veterinary patient-client relationship, as well as the industry as a whole and the profession really looking at what happens to veterinary professionals over their years and some of the turmoil and emotional parts of that that really weigh on them over time. I really saw this then as this is a solution, and if we can go ahead and put this into place sooner rather than later, it's going to be slow, but it’s going to pay off and we’re certainly seeing the payoff.

Mr. Halow: That’s great.

Dr. Wooten: I definitely can second everything you have been saying. As a practicing veterinarian, when I know that I’m about to see a client that has pet insurance I go oh, thank God. OK, now I can actually do my job, and I don’t have to worry, and the client doesn’t have to worry, and we don’t even have to think about that.It is a huge weight off my mind. Along the same vein, how do you see compliance in these clients being different than clients that have pets that are uninsured.

Ms. Russ: I think through some literature and research that have come out of the pet insurance companies you definitely see the compliance rate much higher with clients that have pet insurance. They, in general, also just come to the veterinary hospital more consistently and frequently, which is just leading to getting those pets seen sooner, which ultimately improves their prognosis as well. There’s definitely an increase there because pet owners coming in, they really do want to do what’s best for their pet. They are part of their family, but ultimately, it does sometimes come down to what they can financially afford.

Mr. Halow: You eliminate that, ‘Let’s just wait and see.’

Ms. Russ: Exactly. Absolutely. Potentially, I do think and sometimes I think veterinarians do get in a way that they bring that up because they are concerned that the client can’t afford it. I will just a little caveat, again, worked for years that we don’t make those assumptions. I don’t want that assumption going into the room because we don’t know potentially what maybe somebody can or cannot afford, and we don’t want to be the ones making that decision for them ahead of time.

But I can see in working with veterinarians that that can happen over time. It’s a conversation as a team, that we have to have very consistently, but again, that’s why I wanted to put something in place, particularly in our community but speaking nationally, bringing it out to the entire profession to say this is a way for us, that slow trickle you were talking about earlier, that we can stop having this conversation and the ethical exhaustion that occurs in our profession over it.

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