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A focus group study of veterinarians' and pet owners' perceptions of the monetary aspects of veterinary care

Jason B. Coe DVM1, Cindy L. Adams MSW, PhD2, and Brenda N. Bonnett DVM, PhD3
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  • 1 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
  • | 2 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
  • | 3 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.

Abstract

Objective—To compare veterinarians' and pet owners' perceptions of client expectations with respect to the monetary aspects of veterinary care and identify challenges encountered by veterinarians in dealing with pet owners' expectations.

Design—Qualitative study based on focus group interviews.

Participants—6 pet owner focus groups (32 owners) and 4 veterinarian focus groups (24 companion animal veterinarians).

Procedures—Independent focus group sessions were conducted with standardized open-ended questions and follow-up probes. Content analysis was performed on the focus group discussions.

Results—Pet owners expected the care of their animal to take precedence over monetary aspects. They also expected veterinarians to initiate discussions of costs upfront but indicated that such discussions were uncommon. Veterinarians and pet owners differed in the way they related to discussions of veterinary costs. Veterinarians focused on tangibles, such as time and services. Pet owners focused on outcome as it related to their pet's health and well-being. Veterinarians reported that they sometimes felt undervalued for their efforts. A suspicion regarding the motivation behind veterinarians' recommendations surfaced among some participating pet owners.

Conclusions—Results suggested that the monetary aspects of veterinary care pose barriers and challenges for veterinarians and pet owners. By exploring clients' expectations, improving communication, educating clients, and making discussions of cost more common, veterinarians may be able to alleviate some of the monetary challenges involved in veterinarian-client-patient interactions.

Abstract

Objective—To compare veterinarians' and pet owners' perceptions of client expectations with respect to the monetary aspects of veterinary care and identify challenges encountered by veterinarians in dealing with pet owners' expectations.

Design—Qualitative study based on focus group interviews.

Participants—6 pet owner focus groups (32 owners) and 4 veterinarian focus groups (24 companion animal veterinarians).

Procedures—Independent focus group sessions were conducted with standardized open-ended questions and follow-up probes. Content analysis was performed on the focus group discussions.

Results—Pet owners expected the care of their animal to take precedence over monetary aspects. They also expected veterinarians to initiate discussions of costs upfront but indicated that such discussions were uncommon. Veterinarians and pet owners differed in the way they related to discussions of veterinary costs. Veterinarians focused on tangibles, such as time and services. Pet owners focused on outcome as it related to their pet's health and well-being. Veterinarians reported that they sometimes felt undervalued for their efforts. A suspicion regarding the motivation behind veterinarians' recommendations surfaced among some participating pet owners.

Conclusions—Results suggested that the monetary aspects of veterinary care pose barriers and challenges for veterinarians and pet owners. By exploring clients' expectations, improving communication, educating clients, and making discussions of cost more common, veterinarians may be able to alleviate some of the monetary challenges involved in veterinarian-client-patient interactions.

Contributor Notes

Dr. Adams' present address is Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N 4N1, Canada.

Supported by a grant from the Ontario Veterinary College Pet Trust Fund.

Presented at the International Conference on Communication in Veterinary Medicine, Washington, DC, July 2007, and the International Conference on Communication in Healthcare, Charleston, SC, October 2007.

Address correspondence to Dr. Coe.