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Veterinary Forum August 2008 (Vol 25, No 8)

Doctor to Doctor — Polishing your policies

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    The only way to gain consistency with every transaction and all staff members is to develop comprehensive financial policies. One good rule is that if a conflict occurs, it is time to formalize a financial policy so it does not happen again. Financial policies provide a clear understanding for everyone.

    Client financial policy — The client policy should include all information the client needs to know concerning payment for services rendered. The information should be provided to every new client in the form of a handout or be included in the practice brochure. In my practices, the financial statement includes details on methods of payment, pet abandonment procedures, required deposits and permission to treat any and all pets belonging to a client when presented by that client or an authorized agent until we receive written notice stating otherwise.

    Internal financial policy — This document contains all information every staff member must know about client financial policies and how to handle the exceptions. This material must be reviewed with all employees when they are hired.

    Credit policy — If in-house credit is offered, the client should be given a separate credit policy handout that lists the payment options. However, it is not advisable to give credit to every client, as it is better to collect as much of the fee as possible at the time of service.

    Forms of payment — Another policy is to have the receptionist determine the method of payment before the client is taken to the examination room. The receptionist can ask, "Will you be paying by cash, check or credit card?" Many practice owners fear that clients will think too much emphasis is being placed on the money side of the practice, but I have not found that to be true if the question is asked to all clients in a way they perceive as routine. It also is an ideal time to ask if the client is interested in pet health insurance.

    Estimates — Sound financial management also includes giving clients accurate estimates. The development of "service computer packages" makes a lot of sense from a time management perspective because it virtually eliminates missed charges. Charges for services rendered that were not charged to the client are 100% pure lost net profit. The development of a comprehensive list of computer packages saves time in generating estimates, posting bills and collecting payments. A canned package can become a "prompter" that helps everyone to remember all possible charges. Although it takes time to develop these packages, it is minuscule compared with the time involved in developing the same estimates repeatedly. Some software programs have these included for you.

    Deposits — Deposits bring the client back to reality. If the client cannot pay the deposit when the pet is admitted, chances are high that the total bill cannot be paid at the time of dismissal from the hospital. Surveys show that most clients do want the best care for their pets, but unfortunately wanting the best care does not mean they can pay for it.

    NEXT: Editor's Note — Meeting our mission

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