Millennial pet owners confirmed in a recent survey what most of us already knew—the human-animal bond is becoming stronger and pet owners consider their pets as family members, not simply possessions or companions. The survey also showed that 42% preferred cuddling with their pets over their romantic partners, 84% worry about their pets when they’re away for only a short time, and 71% would take a pay cut if they could take their pet to work. 

The ever-strengthening human-animal bond has implications beyond the day-to-day, such as influencing pet owner decisions regarding their pet’s care, including accepting a specialty referral. The VESPECON team knows that most veterinarians believe many, or most, of their clients are unwilling or unable to pay for specialty care, but the data tell a different story. 

Perceived barriers to specialty care

Several studies and surveys of referral behaviors show that the top reason primary care veterinarians avoid referral is a perception that clients cannot, or will not, pay for advanced care. A collaborative care coalition survey confirmed these results, finding that 77% of veterinarians cite cost as the primary referral barrier. Other top reasons veterinarians avoid referral include:

  • Difficulty scheduling appointments
  • Overwhelming referral process for clients
  • Prior unsatisfactory treatment outcomes
  • Poor specialist communication

The decision to refer some patients but not others often depends on these perceptions, combined with factors relating to the veterinarian’s own personal abilities, the practice’s equipment, the case severity, and whether referral is typical for a particular condition. The fact remains that, regardless of your perceptions, failing to offer to refer a patient who would benefit is a disservice to the client and the patient. You may be surprised at how often clients say, “Yes,” when you start offering referrals more regularly.

Client willingness to accept referral

Clients who are deeply bonded with their pets want only the best care for them. In a study designed to evaluate pet owner compliance with veterinary recommendations, only 2 out of 10 pet owners said they declined recommended care because of financial limitations. That study found that pet owners declined care or failed to follow through because they didn’t see why the care was necessary—likely a result of miscommunication or lack of sufficient client education. 

Offering referral and explaining why referral is necessary also has financial implications for the primary veterinarian. Clients have been shown to reach a tipping point of frustration after three unsuccessful visits for their pet, and they may lose faith in the practice and fail to return if no referral has been offered.

If clients express financial concerns over a referral recommendation, remind them that specialty costs may seem higher up front, but referral may actually save them money in the long run. Multiple studies show that chronic, recurrent conditions can be treated in fewer visits and with fewer recurrences in a specialty setting, resulting in fewer repeat visits and lower long-term care costs. Most specialty practices also offer third-party financing options, such as CareCredit or Scratch Pay, which can alleviate the immediate financial burden with multiple payments.

Helping clients with true financial limitations

Some clients truly do not have the extra money to spend on a referral or ongoing specialty care. If you feel you cannot effectively manage these cases without a specialist’s help, consider telemedicine. These specialty consulting services can provide you with the tools and knowledge to better diagnose and treat these patients yourself, while charging the client a more acceptable fee. The right telemedicine service can support you through an entire case, from choosing and interpreting diagnostics, to treatment options, to follow-up recommendations, and will collaborate with you on an ongoing and as-needed basis.

The VESPECON team offers primary veterinarians easily accessible virtual consulting services to improve case management in real time. We improve access to specialty care, despite potential client limitations, and offer an intermediate step between primary and in-person specialty care. For patients who require more advanced treatment, we can coordinate an in-person visit with a partner hospital and smooth the referral process for you and your client. 

Contact us to learn more about VESPECON’s services and how they can benefit your practice, patients, and clients. Or, sign up and start enjoying the benefits of easily accessible specialty care without delay.