Don't leave clients out in the cold—help them find ways to pay
One of the many unhappy lessons veterinarians have had to learn from the recession is that clients don't have bottomless wallets filled with cash to spend on veterinary care. What's more, many pet owners who are already financially challenged because of the economy are facing rising veterinary costs as more sophisticated medical options become available. These options extend the life span of many pets, which results in more routine care spending as well as an increased likelihood of the pet developing a serious or chronic disease.
So how do we as a profession respond? The needs of these clients and patients are real. But it's not reasonable to think we can just give care away. Running a veterinary hospital isn't cheap, and veterinarians and their staff members have the same need to earn a good living as anyone else.
The fact is, clients need options for veterinary service payments. In fact, a poll conducted last year by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI) shows that 74 percent of clients are using payment options they haven't used in the past, including pet insurance, third-party payment plans, and in-clinic billing options. We can help shoulder some of the burden by learning about these payment options and heartily recommending our favorites to clients.FIRST STEPS
The first thing you need to do, if you haven't already, is to create a written financial policy. Once you determine the forms of payment you'll accept, make sure everyone in the practice clearly understands the policy before talking to clients. If clients know what to expect, they're more likely to accept treatment because you've eliminated their fear of cost.
Next, while no one in practice wants to function as an insurance salesperson or credit card vendor, it's important to be well-versed in the options and recommend the ones your practice believes in. You already suggest obedience trainers, pet daycare centers, groomers, pet sitters, and a wide variety of dietary and other products to clients. Financial options are just as important. When clients are equipped with the ability to pay, pets receive improved care, veterinary teams can practice high-quality medicine, and business profitability improves.
Not convinced? A 2006 study conducted by VPI showed that the company's policyholders on average had 41 percent higher stop-treatment levels than uninsured pet owners, scheduled 40 percent more veterinary visits, and spent twice as much on veterinary care over the life of their pets. And in a 2010 CareCredit survey, 71 percent of the firm's cardholders said having a financing option affected their decisions regarding the level of treatment they provided their pets.
In order to effectively recommend payment options, veterinarians and staff members must first understand the products themselves. Clients want a recommendation for a specific brand along with the reasons why your practice thinks this product is the best. This is no different from medical products; clients don't just want to know that their pets should be on heartworm preventive; they want to know which brand your practice recommends and why.