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Issue: 68 - Aug 15, 2014
No More Estimates!
By: Jan Miller, Veterinary Best Practice and Veterinary Demographics
Veterinary Best Practice

There are a number of examples where using the right words at the right time can actually increase your bottom line. I am going to discuss one example here and provide a link to another.

Estimate. Estimate. Estimate.  Estimate.

I’ve never understood the use of this term in veterinary medicine. It’s not a term that is used in human medicine… and medicine is medicine. Of course people want to have an idea about how much their bill is going to be, especially if they are paying cash. That part doesn’t confuse me. I’m confused how the use of the word “estimate” made its way into a clinical environment at all. Words are powerful tools and often times it’s not what you say but what people hear that they act on.

The use of the word estimate has historically had a negative association with services like construction, automotive repair, contractors, plumbers, etc. Although it’s intended to be a best guess related to costs. And more often than not the actual invoice is more than the estimate. And, as is human nature, the customer/client will selectively recall the lowest cost estimate mentioned. This can lead to anger, confrontation, and shock and potentially cause the relationship to take an ugly turn.

An estimate is all about money.

The reality is that an estimate means guessing, and guessing means uncertainty, and uncertainty leads to hesitancy and indecision. Of course, what you really want to communicate is the course of treatment you recommend for the patient. You may have to estimate the final cost of the treatment, but you certainly do not want to suggest that you are estimating the actual course of treatment. And yet, you hand your client a document that screams: ESTIMATE... uncertainty, guessing, hesitancy, indecision. Who wants to hear that from the doctor?

You want clients to follow your recommendations that are designed to guide their pet to a long and healthy life. You want them to know you are considering not only the quality of life of their pet now but also into the future, that you have a carefully thought out plan based on sound clinical judgment and knowledge of their pet. Guessing has nothing to do with it. Indecision has no place in it.

Let’s start a revolution in the profession. Substitute the word estimate for something that more accurately reflects the need to evaluate treatment decisions based on the care required and not solely on the cost. Take the focus off the money and uncertainty that the word “estimate” signifies and put it where it belongs: on the health and well-being of the patient. It’s a subtle nuance but it is also a very powerful one.

What do people hear when you say you care? They think things like: attention, concern, diligence, effort, interest, guardianship, protection, and trust. When you say treatment they relate it to things like: analysis, cure, doctoring, healing, therapy, procedure, and strategy. If you have a plan, you have a course of action with a purpose that considers today and the future.

Isn’t a Care Plan or a Treatment Plan really what you are trying to communicate to a client when you hand them an estimate? A Care Plan or a Treatment Plan would still have projected costs. But changing the terminology and presentation creates a paradigm shift from perceived uncertainty about cost and treatment to one of concern and a medical strategy for the care of their pet.

If you want clients to comply with recommendations during both acute events and long term health maintenance, start using words that advance you to that end instead of words that get in the way. Leave the concept of “estimates” to the non-medical world.       

Want to know another way to improve your bottom line by using the right words at the right time?

Contact me for a copy of an earlier article titled “Is Your Staff Costing You a Fortune?”

As always, feel free to call or email if you have questions or comments.