When a client can’t afford the care for their pet, compassion fatigue, burnout and even depression comes into play. Danielle Russ, BS, BA, AS, LVT, hospital manager of The Cove Center of Veterinary Expertise in Suffolk, Virginia, explains why this happens. “Guilt becomes self-imposed, or clients try to get us to feel guilt when this happens. I’ve had to go through this many times in my career; the reality I’m in now is managing a 24/7 veterinary practice makes me see the entire range. I feel for the team, the client and especially the pet,” she says.
Fortunately there are options. Russ, a CVC educator, offers a few of her top tips.
Know the impact of a client who can't afford care
“If it happens even one time in a day, it can really destroy the morale of the whole hospital,” Russ says. “Maybe it’s someone you’ve known a long time and they’ve hit a rough patch. Maybe it’s someone you don’t know who thinks you’re only in this for the money and makes you feel bad about it. They’re all situations where we’re providing a service with fees that we must implicate.”
Regardless of who, how or why, Russ says everyone walks away with memories of what happened—some worse than others.
Make sure you’re on the same page
“Make sure that the client understands the value of what they’re paying for and why it’s actually a good thing to spend the money,” Russ says. “I’ve seen it in emergency as we’ve gotten bigger: each case is different and it really comes down to how we present the information, how confident the client feels with the diagnoses and test recommendations.”
And it's also important to make sure that you and your entire team are on the same page too. “Work as a team to get everyone to understand the value of themselves and how they contribute to these situations. Make sure everyone understands the key structures of the hospital so that there’s no misunderstanding and you know exactly what you’re talking about. Most importantly, make sure the entire team is standing behind these values—when they’re confident in that, talking about it comes naturally.”
Embrace selling your worth
Lastly, Russ says veterinary professionals need to stop thinking of themselves as insurance salesmen. “Associates complain that they don’t want to be salesmen for pet insurance,” Russ says. “The reality is, pets not getting the care they need because their owners can’t afford it is what you’re complaining about, and pet insurance is a solution.”
And when it comes to higher rates, veterinarians shouldn’t despair. “I don’t think vets have been realistic with their worth, so we should be glad that rates have been going up. All of these things cost money; we need to charge what we’re worth. Would you rather face euthanasia, or would you rather suggest pet insurance? This will never change if you don’t accept it.”
Russ explains this by talking about the research she has personally done on advancements in human medicine compared to veterinary medicine. “In general, vet med is 10 to 18 years behind human medicine in all fields including business,” she says. “I’m going back and looking at how human medicine progressed and where insurance came in and doctors’ roles in that. At one time, doctors were in this exact situation. They themselves had to become salesmen in order to get their clients more affordable care.”
Come together, right now, over patient wellness
When it comes down to it, Russ says that as a community, veterinary professionals need to come together and work this problem out, together. “We’re moving toward a community awareness in general, particularly surrounding the aspects of depression and suicide, and the fact that technicians are leaving the industry because of this kind of stuff,” Russ says. “We’re all going to have to start working together.”
The first step, Russ says, is to remember why you came into the profession in the first place. “In school, we learn quickly not to say that we’re going into the field because we like cats and dogs. But the truth is, I really do like cats and dogs. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m in veterinary medicine. I respect them as well as the human-animal bond and the absolutely positive effect that each can get out of this relationship,” Russ says.
With a common goal in mind, Russ says that it can be easy to work together to raise everyone up in hard times like this, which is the second step to creating a positive change. “It starts with a convention, like CVC, but you can work within your own local community. Ask questions about what works within clinics and what doesn’t when a client can’t pay.”
Russ then explains that in order to make change happen within the veterinary community, veterinary professionals must, well, make the change happen. “Actually doing something takes a lot of thought, practice and stepping out of your comfort zone. Taking action is hard, but that’s what makes a great change.”