Canadian TV program on veterinary bills offers opportunity for improved client communications

Whenever an investigative television program comes out promising to inform pet owners about whether they're paying too much for veterinary care, it is essential for veterinary professionals to take advantage of opportunities the coverage provides, said Jost am Rhyn, executive director of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA).

According to am Rhyn, the hype from these shows is often short-lived and presents a chance for veterinarians to have more meaningful conversations with clients.

"Generally these sensationalized stories create a buzz for a week or two," am Rhyn said. "We will use it as an opportunity to educate pet owners about the value of the sophisticated level of care they have access to at their veterinary hospital."

Currently on the radar of Canadian veterinarians is an upcoming episode of Marketplace titled "Barking Mad" that is asking pet owners in Canada, "Are you paying too much at the vet?" The show is scheduled to air Oct. 4 in Canada.

The program, which says on the CBC Television website that its mission is "sniffing out the truth about vet bills," sent hidden cameras into some Canadian veterinary practices to gather information about how much hospitals charged for various procedures and treatments. It also called on pet owners to submit copies of bills from wellness exams, spaying/neutering, X-rays, and dental cleanings.

Although the program might suggest that some veterinary clients are paying too much, it is actually an opportunity for veterinary hospitals to better communicate the value of their services, am Rhyn said.

Presenting an opportunity for improved client communication

"This program will provide an opportunity for veterinarians to further evaluate how they communicate the value of the services being provided," am Rhyn said. "It is important that veterinarians take the time to explain to clients what is involved in delivering the highly sophisticated diagnostics, procedures, and treatments that are available for their pet."

According to am Rhyn, clients who are well-informed about their pets' health care options and feel as though they are involved members of the veterinary team are less likely to be swayed by investigative programs.

He shared advice for veterinarians to help clients fully understand the value of the care their pets are receiving.

"Be ready to answer questions from pet owners. Show them you care, take the time to explain your recommendations. Let them know you’re on their side, that you can work together to ensure their pet stays healthy," said am Rhyn. "Pet owners need to feel like the veterinary care decisions they make for their pet are the result of a collaboration between veterinarian and owner, and that this collaboration recognizes the level of care they expect and is suited to their budget."

Vetting the information presented on the program

Jim Berry, DVM, CVMA president, recently did a 90-minute interview with the host of Marketplace to discuss topics including vaccination, heartworm testing and prevention, and pet obesity.

Although Berry was able to discuss the benefits and value of veterinary services at length, am Rhyn said that veterinary associations in Canada will be watching carefully to determine whether any responses are needed regarding the show's content.

"The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the provincial veterinary medical associations will be watching the program closely when it airs," am Rhyn said. "If required, we will be responding to correct any false information in the show. If needed, we will also address any valid concerns that are raised during the show and use it as an opportunity to reassure and educate pet owners about the value of veterinary health care."

Resources for better communicating the value of veterinary services

The following articles and resources from AAHA and the CVMA provide information and talking points that address many of the issues raised on the television program.

AAHA articles and resources

CVMA articles to help veterinarians educate pet owners