Stronger client relationships are key to better patient care
Charlotte Hansen, MS, is assistant director of statistical analysis for the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division.
Research highlights the connection between the veterinarian-client relationship and attitudes toward veterinary care.
Practice owners and managers deal with client relationships every day, and investing in these relationships is a crucial part of business success. The veterinarian-client relationship isn’t just a part of veterinary practice; it is a key component in making sure our patients get the care they need.
Research shows that strong, personal client relationships are necessary to change attitudes and perceptions about veterinary care. A strong relationship often can determine whether a client brings their animal in for regular checkups, complies with treatment guidelines, or even accepts recommendations for pet products with an open mind. This means that at the end of the day, our ability to provide the best possible patient outcomes hinges on our relationship with an animal’s owner as well as our medical knowledge and skill.
What the data show
A first step in building those strong relationships is understanding how our clients perceive veterinary care and what they’re looking for in a veterinarian. Here are some key findings from our research:
- Not surprisingly, owners fundamentally care about their pet’s health and well-being. They see it as a responsibility to look after their pet, and they rely on their veterinarian to stay current and informed on how best to do that. They see value in veterinary care and, in general, are satisfied with the care they receive.
- Veterinarians remain the most trusted adviser for pet owners. Even while clients are increasingly turning online to buy products that they used to get from their veterinarian, their ultimate loyalty is with the veterinarian. Lower prices and convenience drive the value proposition in e-commerce channels, but pet owners still feel more loyal to their veterinarian than to either a website or physical store.
- Pet owners who have a regular veterinarian prioritize the benefits of this relationship—having a trusted advisor who really knows their pet—over price and convenience. These clients are influenced more by the veterinarian’s knowledge, quality of care, and compassion than by price or convenience (eg, location). On the other hand, pet owners who don’t have a regular veterinarian are more influenced by price and location.
- 30% of pet owners still don’t see their veterinarian on a regular basis. Reasons vary and include cost, the pet not being sick or having an emergency, and sometimes a perception that the price of veterinary care isn’t worth the value of services.
Increasing regular care
We can focus on several areas in changing pet owners’ perceptions of veterinary care. First is emphasizing to pet owners that regular veterinary care isn’t just meant to treat an overt or visible medical condition. If we can increase compliance with guidelines for preventive care, we can keep their pets healthier and increase the opportunities for any medical issues to be detected early.
Regular wellness visits also provide a valuable opportunity for us to really get to know our patients and clients. Having a deep understanding of the animal’s history, behavior, and tendencies, as well as the client’s lifestyle, helps us provide personalized recommendations that increase the likelihood of compliance.
At the same time, regular visits allow us to lay the groundwork for a deeper veterinarian-client relationship—one that helps expand our role beyond the scope of medical provider, providing guidance in other important areas of care, such as food, behavior, exercise, and selection of pet products.
Highlighting value, addressing cost
Research shows that one of the reasons animals don’t see a veterinarian regularly is because pet owners might feel they get the support and input they need from other providers, such as their groomer, trainer, dog walker, or local pet store. It’s important for clients to understand the value of the veterinarian’s expertise in all facets of their animal’s care. One example is food and nutrition. Discussing diet and nutrition during regular checkups can enhance clients’ understanding and attitudes toward the care we provide, and let them know they can rely on us to help with these decisions.
A stronger client relationship also allows for discussions around more sensitive topics, such as money. Having proactive and transparent conversations about cost of services and payment options is a critical part of building trust with our clients and helping ensure their pets get the care they need. Cost, we know, is a major reason why pets don’t see a veterinarian on a regular basis. Most pet owners aren’t aware of the options available when it comes to affording veterinary care—or that their veterinarian is someone with whom they can have these conversations.
Even the way we talk about pricing can influence how clients perceive veterinary care and the value we provide. The American Veterinary Medical Association website offers tips to help you communicate with clients about pricing and includes information to implement flexible care and treatment options.
The bottom line
Fostering personal, loyal client relationships should be a core component of a veterinary practice’s business strategy. Your client relationships differentiate you from the competition and are the foundation for a strong client experience. Strong client relationships can lead to more consistent veterinary care, improved compliance, better patient outcomes, and loyal customers for your business.
Charlotte Hansen, MS, is assistant director of statistical analysis for the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division
- U.S. Pet Market Outlook, 2021-2022. Packaged Facts; 2021.