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Veterinary Forum May 2009 (Vol 26, No 5)

Doctor to Doctor — Fixing fee complaints

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    Most complaints about pricing can be resolved by properly informing clients about pricing for a procedure.

    My practice has virtually eliminated fee complaints by developing standardized estimates and a "Consent for Treatment" form that includes the estimated cost for goods and services.

    By using practice management software to choose from a list of services — some of which can be bundled together for common procedures — it becomes quicker and easier to generate estimated cost ranges and eliminate missed charges.

    Many veterinarians perceive that clients will not accept a recommended procedure if the cost is expected to be high. To achieve higher compliance, these veterinarians misguidedly quote the lower price and deal with the disgruntled client at discharge if the actual fee is higher.

    At my practice, only the high end of a cost range is quoted. I also include a line item labeled "MSCPS," which stands for "miscellaneous (MSC) professional services (PS) and drugs" and represents the variation between the minimum and maximum estimated ranges. It typically adds 10% to 15% to the cost of the line-item services and products listed in the standardized estimate.

    If a client rejects a treatment decision because of cost, an option to finance the difference between the high-end and low-end estimates can be offered. My philosophy is to always offer financing options for the difference between a lesser treatment option and the best treatment option before settling for the lesser option. Financing is always better for the practice than discounting.

    The key to retaining enthusiastic clients is to exceed expectations, and one way to do that is to charge less than you quote. Remember that the high estimated quote includes the MSCPS, which should be sufficient to allow some freedom to charge a little less than the initial quote.

    Most clients who receive a lower-than-expected bill will walk out of a practice feeling enthusiastic. Enthusiastic clients are more likely to refer their friends and neighbors.

    Most clients want an estimate to calculate whether they can afford the procedure and do not have the medical expertise to suggest line items that can be cut to save money while still providing good care for their pet. We are not looking to make a deal when it comes to the quality of care that we deliver, but we can offer various ways to present the best care.

    For a sample of Dr. Whitford's Consent for Treatment form, click here . A sample form also is available from AAHA.

    NEXT: Dr. Janis Audin, AVMA editor-in-chief emeritus, dies


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