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Practice Management

Perception and Fees

by Mark Opperman, CVPM

    Traditionally, January is the time when many veterinarians raise their fees. Are you getting ready? More important, are you getting your clients ready? Remember, price is only an issue in the absence of value. So the best time to evaluate the perceived value of services that you are rendering to your clients and their pets is before you increase your prices.

    Start by taking a look around. When was the last time you sat in your reception area or objectively evaluated the outside physical environment of your practice? Maybe your practice is in need of a fresh coat of paint or a “facelift.” This is the time to do it!

    Next, review your patient visits. You probably know what you can do to emphasize the value of your services to your clients, but are you consistently doing it? For example:

    • Are you completing an examination room report card in front of each client and verbally reviewing the comprehensive physical exam that was just performed? Are you presenting the client with a copy of the report card?
    • Are you calling each client whose pet has been seen or discharged from your practice and inquiring how the patient is doing?
    • Are the receptionists verbally itemizing each statement before giving the total to the client?
    • When a surgery patient is discharged, is the doctor spending 5 minutes of face time with the client to review the services and procedures administered to the pet and the postoperative discharge instructions?

    To get a true client perspective of your services, I would also suggest you incorporate the mystery shopper concept into your practice. Have a family member or friend who is not known by others in your practice arrange an appointment for an outpatient office visit and bring their pet to the hospital. This person should go through the entire process just like any other client. At the end of the visit, he or she should fill out a mystery shopper form. This document will detail the experiences of the mystery shopper, both positive and negative. The results of this form should then be presented at the next health care team meeting. However, I recommend informing your health care team that you are going to do this before sending in the mystery shopper, for two reasons: (1) the team won’t feel like you are “spying” on them, and (2) they will most likely treat every client as if they were the mystery shopper. Remember: don’t expect what you don’t inspect!

    Click here to download a sample mystery shopper form.

    When you review your fees, you should look at two distinct areas: your shopped and exposed fees and your in-hospital fees. Shopped and exposed fees are those that clients call different practices and inquire about to compare prices. In small animal medicine, these include spay and neuter surgeries and vaccinations; in large animal medicine, they include trip charges, deworming, and pregnancy testing. There is no rhyme or reason behind shopped and exposed fees; basically, they depend on the market in your area. To determine shopped and exposed fees, have one of your team members call around to other practices of similar quality to your own to determine their fees for various services. Fortunately, in-hospital fees are easier to determine. To calculate your in-hospital fees, figure out your overhead costs per minute and direct costs with a mark-up, and add a return on time for the staff performing the service.

    Once you have determined your baseline fees for in-hospital procedures and set them appropriately, you will need to adjust them yearly. You can either recalculate them based on the formula above, or you can adjust them based on the cost of living. Normally, I suggest that you increase your non–shopped and exposed fees by at least double the cost of living. So if the cost of living increased by 4% last year, I would suggest that you increase your fees 4% every 6 months or 8% once a year. If you do not keep up with the cost of living, you will fall behind, and it will have a negative effect on your practice. All other expenses are going up, and you need to adjust your fees accordingly.

    Read more about tracking and managing your income and expenses!

    Don’t let the new year catch you off guard! With a little analysis and planning now, you can put yourself—and your clients—in position to sail smoothly into 2012.


    Did you know... The process of writing standard operating procedures (SOPs) can help improve how procedures are performed and can be used for staff development in combination with SOP training and employee performance reviews.Read More

    These Care Guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions. They are formatted to print and give to your clients for their information.

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