Talk to your vet about money

If you were raised like I was, your mother probably taught you that it was impolite to talk about money in courteous company. But I’m here to tell you that such civilized niceties have a way of flying out the window when your pet is sick.

It’s true; talking frankly about finances can be uncomfortable for both pet owners and veterinarians. Still, pets unknowingly depend on a healthy relationship between their veterinarian and their owner for sound decision making about their veterinary care.

Unlimited Care Options, Limited Finances

The rising cost of pet care — on everything from high-end diets and pricey training to specialized veterinary care and cutting-edge drugs — means that most pet owners are at some point likely to find themselves confronting a discomfiting reality: The science and technology to help our patients may be available, but they may not always be accessible. Money may unfortunately intervene.

Despite this inconvenient truth, pet owners probably have more power than they think they do when it comes to getting their money’s worth at the vet clinic.

Here’s why: It’s generally understood that pet owners who are better able to explain their personal financial situations are more likely to achieve their health care goals within their budget.

Be Frank About Finances

With that in mind, I thought it might be nice to offer you a checklist of useful approaches to “the money talk.” After all, it’s inevitable. Because unless you’re a Gates or a Buffett of sorts, you’ll be talking cash with your clinician at some point in your pet’s future.

To that end, here are seven great tips to help you talk positively about money with your family veterinarian:

1. Remember that your veterinarian is a person, too. Believe it or not, we pay for veterinary care for our pets, too. While we want the best for your pet, it’s usually not in our power to give away or discount services, tests or medications. What we can do is help determine how to put the funds you have to efficient use to help achieve the best outcome for your pet.

2. Communicate your goals and priorities. Talking money is stressful. We get that. After all, in many cases you’re effectively telling us that you don’t make as much money as you wish you did. (How stressful is that in this culture?)

But despite your financial limitations, we also know that everyone has different priorities. If a cure (when possible) is your priority and you want a pull-out-all-the-stops approach, even if it means an organ transplant, that’s helpful for us to know. If, however, you simply want to alleviate pain and keep your pet comfortable, let us know that, too. There’s typically no right or wrong answer here, as long as your pet isn’t suffering.

3. State your financial case plainly. Be forthright. Tell us what you think you can afford and what your limitations are, including if you have educational, medical or personal debts and obligations. In other words, you can drop all pretenses. We all want what’s best for your pet.

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 help stretch your budget. For example, it’ll make us more amenable to questions like “Can I get this drug or product online or at my local pharmacy?”

4. Ingratiate yourself to the front office staff. Here’s a practical tip: If you treat the reception staff with the respect they deserve, they’ll become increasingly responsive to your wants and needs. Getting extra friendly with expressive thank-yous or inexpensive tidbits (coffee, breakfast pastries?) can go a very long way, indeed.

In fact, when you recognize the importance of their work, you’re more likely to get perks such as squeezing you in for an appointment on a busy day or faster callbacks from your veterinarian, which can be valuable assets.

5. Lean on the veterinary technicians! Making friends with the veterinary technician and other support staff not only gives you plenty of the same benefits the reception staff offers, but it also helps ensure your pet gets extra-personal attention when they’re in-house.

While they can’t give you medical advice, veterinary technicians usually possess important pet care knowledge that your veterinarian may not have the time to impart. This can save you money.

6. Getting personal helps. While plenty of veterinarians prefer you not get so close, if you’re like-minded, this approach tends to pave the way for better communication — and better care! But you don’t want to overstep your bounds, of course.

That’s why I always recommend a nice icebreaker: Ask about their own pets. It typically leads to more relaxed conversations and greater mutual trust. It’s especially helpful should you get into financial hot water at some point in the future.

A corollary to this includes an uncomfortable question I wish pet owners would ask more often: What would you do if this were your pet? While I hate this question, I can’t deny that I believe my answers help my clients make better decisions.

7. Be proactive! While you’re at it, ask your veterinarian about ways to handle future veterinary expenses. Do they like certain pet health insurance companies more than others? Do they advocate for pet health savings plans? Ask! You’ll be surprised at what we can come up with when asked questions like these.

I know it’s not easy to broach the subject, but money issues are inevitable. How do you deal with your veterinarian when it comes to money issues? I’d especially love to hear any tips you’d be willing to offer.