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Veterinary Forum November 2008 (Vol 25, No 11)

Doctor to Doctor — Payment, please

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    The more ways you can make it easier for the client to afford and pay for services, the busier you will be.

    Income has a better chance of increasing when clients are treated appropriately from the beginning. Receptionists should be trained to address the method of payment before the client is escorted into the examination room. The method should be noted on the check-in form used by the technician or doctor. All financial policies should be explained in detail on forms that the client fills out, preferably before the first visit.

    Deposits equal to some of the costs of the services should be requested before any major services are rendered. This is good business in that at least partial payment is received, the total final bill appears to be less and the client is forced to view the procedures realistically and base requests on a practical level rather than an emotional one.

    Clients do have several choices when it comes to paying for or selecting veterinary services:

    • Pay at the time of service
    • Negotiate payment options
    • Negotiate treatment options
    • Ignore care
    • Refuse to pay

    The more ways you make it possible for the client to pay the bill, the more services you can render. In today's economy, payment aids, such as pet insurance or in-house financing, can help clients afford veterinary care for their pets. Cost is much less of an issue when terms are offered up front.

    By advocating for pet insurance, veterinarians can offer clients another way to pay for recommended treatment. Unfortunately, most practice owners do not recognize the difference between indemnity pet insurance policies and human managed care (HMO) policies.

    Indemnity insurance, which is what most pet insurance is, is a contract between the pet owner and the insurance company; the company has no control over medical decisions or fees and if a procedure is covered, the company pays a set amount regardless of your fee. Pet insurance can help make sophisticated veterinary care available to pet owners. One must remember, however, that as the pet ages, premium costs rise.

    A practice owner's goal should be to make the client aware that pet health insurance does exist, provide contact information for a company if possible and let the client decide whether it is something to consider.

    One caution: Choose your recommendations wisely — many companies have come and gone through the years.

    Financing, another option for clients, is more profitable than discounting. Discounted services can create a perception that normal fees are too high and the level of care is questionable.

    The key to making financing a profit center is to keep it controlled, requiring deposits at least equal to the hard costs involved and limiting financing to services only.

    There are costs involved with providing credit, including printing costs, postage, staff costs and losses from past-due accounts.

    NEXT: Editor's Note — Fighting rabies here and across the border

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