Discussing the Value of Senior Blood Work with Clients
Sometimes veterinarians say the most absurd things. I remember delivering a head–scratcher not long ago. The words sounded ridiculous even as they left my mouth: “Your pet looks great! Would you like to do some senior lab work? It only costs $165!”
The woman I addressed was holding a 14-year-old Papillon that was otherwise relatively healthy. She looked at me like I had just told her she was beautiful and then recommended a plastic surgeon. Watching her face, I saw pride turn to confusion, then distrust, and finally, conviction. “No, thank you.”
During a busy day, distracted veterinarians often make the mistake I did. They put forth off-the-cuff recommendations that lack the conviction and support necessary to ensure client acceptance (or even consideration). I have since regularly used a few tips for making more effective senior lab work recommendations.
Here are 3 great tips:
Tip #1: Define the Term
It’s easy to forget that phrases we use commonly in practice are completely foreign to the majority of our clients. Examples of veterinary diagnostic jargon include “senior lab work,” “wellness testing,” “geriatric panel,” and my least favorite, “the sunset panel.” (Note: In my opinion, this last one sounds dangerously close to a “your pet is steadily dying" test.)
This service may be exactly what our client needs, but she has no idea if that’s the case or even what we are talking about. If we want clients to consider senior lab work as a diagnostic step, then we must first clearly explain what our chosen term for it means.
Example of Defining “Senior Lab Work”:
Our senior lab work is a screening test in four parts. The first is a CBC, or Complete Blood Count, which tells us about your pet’s immune and oxygen-carrying blood cells. The second part is a chemistry panel, which evaluates organ function and electrolyte levels. The third is a urinalysis, which we use to investigate kidney function and look for signs of infection or disease. Finally, the panel includes a thyroid level check. Thyroid hormone plays a key role in controlling metabolism, and thyroid abnormalities are common in older pets. Taking a look at these things at your dog’s age tells us if there’s anything we should be looking out for proactively to keep him healthy.
Tip #2: Make It Policy
If your practice believes in the value of senior lab work, then make it part of your wellness protocols. There is great strength in a statement like, “Melvin is 9 years old and has moved into our senior healthcare program. Today he is due for a bordetella vaccine and some senior lab work.”
Clearly stated hospital policies on senior lab work have at least 2 distinct advantages:
A) It leverages your team
When your healthcare team understands your senior wellness protocols and the rationale behind them, they can deliver a consistent and repeated message about the importance of senior lab work. This recommendation can be first delivered when senior pets’ owners schedule appointments, and repeated by everyone who reviews recommendations after the pets arrive in the clinic.
B) It capitalizes on the Principle of Social Proof
Ever wondered why comedy shows on TV follow their jokes with pre-recorded laughter? They’re taking advantage of a psychological principle called Social Proof. This principle states that people are naturally inclined to decide the “correct” course of action in a situation by finding out what other people did in the same situation. When we hear canned laughter, we have a natural tendency to believe that laughing is the norm because others are doing it.1
In veterinary medicine, when clients are deciding what to do for their pets, they are likely to follow the course of action that they believe most other pet owners are taking. By creating and communicating senior wellness protocols, we are letting clients know that senior lab work is the supported norm in our practice.
Are you ready to do more senior lab work today? Take this self-test to decide if you're able to make effective lab work recommendations for senior pets.
|Consider website content, social media posts, client handouts, brochures, and pamphlets about your senior pet healthcare protocols (including blood work) to educate clients and formalize your senior wellness program.|
|See this chart on assessing pet age from the Pet Health Network (courtesy of IDEXX)|
Tip #3: State the Value
You’ve probably never heard anyone in a checkout line say, “This is expensive and I have no idea why I would ever need it. It’s perfect!” If we want clients to elect to have senior lab work done for their pets, then we need to make its value clear.
To achieve this, we must provide our clients with the answers to these important questions.2
A) Why does this client want or need senior lab work?
As the keepers of the VISA card, pet owners should be given a clear understanding of how they benefit from your recommendation.
Example of How to Inform Clients They’ll Benefit:
Weaker: “This will help us evaluate Phoenix’s recent behavioral change.”
Stronger: “This will help us evaluate Phoenix’s recent behavioral change, which has been causing you such headaches.”
B) How is this different from the other blood work options available?
Whether the panel you recommend is the best or the best value, let your client know why this is the test that should be done, as opposed to others.
C) Will the panel give the client the results that you promise?
To address this concern, you must set reasonable expectations for the value of the information that the panel will deliver, and then follow through by providing the promised information.
Example of Recommending Lab Work in a Seemingly Healthy Patient:
Mrs. Harper, as you know, Rico Suave is now a senior pet. You have done a fantastic job of taking care of him. I have examined him, and I am not finding any obvious problems.
Because Rico is one of our senior patients, I want to tell you a little bit about the senior lab work that we recommend for dogs his age.
I like to think of this lab work as an “internal examination.” While it can’t show me everything that is going on, it is a broad panel that includes all the tests I recommend to assess general body function. I recommend it because it is the best way to catch disease processes including diabetes, liver and kidney disease, hormonal imbalances, and even sometimes cancer, as early as possible. I find that the test helps a lot of pet owners sleep well at night and, in cases where we catch something early, it helps us get the best possible medical outcome.
Would you be interested in having some senior lab work done for Rico Suave today?
Regardless of the composition of your senior lab work, or the frequency with which you recommend it, these tips will help you make stronger recommendations. They have certainly helped me, and now senior lab work is one more topic that can be discussed with full confidence.
1. Influence: Science and Practice. Cialdini, RB—Allyn and Bacon Press, 2001.
2. Rain Making Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. Shultz M, Doerr J—John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2011.