Common pet insurance myths, Part 1 (Sponsored by VPI)

Dec 12, 2012
By dvm360.com staff
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A recent survey of veterinary teams revealed the common myths team members believe about pet insurance. In the first part of this three-part series, we explore the third-most commonly mentioned myth about pet insurance: Team members don’t know enough to educate pet owners about pet insurance. 

Myth: Our team members don't know what the practice recommends when it comes to pet insurance, and they're not prepared to educate pet owners.

Fact: Team members play a critical role in educating pet owners about their payment options, says Dr. Amanda Donnelly, owner of ALD Veterinary Consulting. "Team members have an obligation to help people know what their options are so they can better afford pet care." The key, she says, is to keep in mind that your goal is to educate pet owners—not sell pet insurance. (Find links to tools to educate your team about pet insurance below.)

"Every single day, without a doubt, money plays into the decisions pet owners make about their pets, limiting the care they offer," says Dr. Andy Roark, a veterinarian who practices in Greenville, S.C., and is the founder and managing director of the veterinary consulting firm Tall Oaks Enterprises. Team members can play an important role in educating clients by following these steps:

1. Plan it. Dr. Roark says the key to successful pet insurance conversations is making a plan to make sure conversations happen. One easy approach is to allocate time during the pet’s first visit to your clinic—whether it's a puppy or kitten or a 2-year-old lab that's just been adopted from the shelter. Dr. Roark says these older pets visiting for the first time often get missed unless team members stop to think about it. That's why he recommends creating new patient kits instead of only kitten and puppy kits. Putting something in their hands adds to the perception of value, Dr. Roark says. 

2. Automate your conversations. This starts with knowledgeable receptionists who are able to field questions and understand why your practice recommends insurance. "Honestly, when we start talking about pet insurance, just being able to work the topic into normal conversations is important," Dr. Roark says. Receptionists, he adds, are likely to be the ones to see the pet insurance forms, so it's important for them to be comfortable with pet insurance conversations. For receptionists, a conversation starter might be as simple as saying at checkout, "Are you using pet insurance today?" It puts pet insurance into clients' minds, every time they check out. It also sends a signal to the owner that other clients at your practice use pet insurance—a powerful motivator.

Technicians also play a powerful role in recommending pet insurance, Dr. Roark says. For example, he says technicians can take a role by presenting the new pet packets and educating pet owners about the materials inside the folders—including brochures from the pet insurance companies that the practice recommends.

He says physically placing the pet insurance brochures in clients' hands while the puppy wreaks havoc on the exam room forces their minds to go where you want them to go instead of becoming distracted by their whirling tornadoes of fur. And if the technician discusses pet insurance, the doctor can reinforce the pet insurance message and answer follow-up questions.

About 24 percent of team members say talking about pet insurance takes too much time when time with clients is already limited, according to the 2012 Survey on Veterinary Pet Insurance, conducted by Advanstar Communications Inc., Veterinary Group. The fact is, pet insurance talks don’t need to take a long time—especially if you've trained your entire team to be part of the conversation. Each talk may take less then two minutes, but if everyone plays a role, you can efficiently educate clients about this payment option. (For an example of these conversations, visit dvm360.com/sampleinsurancescript to read Dr. Donnelly’s advice to make each team member part of the pet insurance conversation.)

It also helps to designate a team member to be your pet insurance expert. At Valley Cottage Animal Hospital, receptionist Ruth Bryden serves as the practice's authority on pet insurance. As a pet insurance policyholder herself, she's able to share her interest with pet owners and educate them about their policies.

Consider these additional tools and tips to teach your team to effectively educate clients about pet insurance:

• Form: Compare pet insurance plans
Find the plan that's right for you, your practice, and your clients.

• Top 4 reasons pet insurance claims are denied
Help insured clients make sense of rejected claims.

• Fight your fear of pet insurance paperwork
Overwhelmed by the thought of recommending pet insurance because of the administrative work involved? Don't fret. These tips can simplify the process and make pet insurance pay at your veterinary practice.

• Handout: 20 questions clients should ask about pet insurance companies
Are your clients getting lost in the fine print? Here's a resource to help them understand different plans, policies, and providers.