When it comes to buying a surgical laser, Dr. Peter Veling, owner of Caring Hands Pet Hospital in Indianapolis, knows what you're likely to think about first: cost. Some units can run as high as $40,000, Dr. Veling says. Will the unit pay for itself quickly? He was an early adopter, obtaining a unit for his clinic almost 10 years ago on a $675 monthly lease. Over the next five years, he pulled in an average $2,382 of monthly gross revenue from the laser fee. Yes, that's a big profit. More than 90 percent of his clients opted to pay the additional $50 to $200 per procedure for use of the laser in their pets' procedures. Dr. Veling trained his team on how to explain the benefits of the laser with a trifold brochure provided by the laser manufacturer as a visual aid. And, of course, using the machine made Dr. Veling a happy surgeon. "The more I can do with less blood and pain, the happier I am," he says.
Dr. Veling uses the laser in more than a dozen different procedures. Here are some of the more common ones:
What to charge
Declaws. Dr. Veling was initially skeptical that cats would recover more quickly after a laser onychectomy. "I knew kittens were sensitive to pain and wouldn't play if they were hurting," he says. But when he tossed a cotton ball in with one of the first kittens he declawed using a laser and the kitten played with the cotton ball right after he woke up from surgery, Dr. Veling was sold. Since then, he has declawed more than 400 cats with no complications as a result of using the laser.
Spays and neuters. The laser is great for these procedures, Dr. Veling says, and he charges an additional $75 for using it. For spays and neuters, using the laser significantly reduces pain from incisions—less abdominal muscle pain in spayed animals, and less pain and licking that leads to swelling in neutered patients. If clients prefer "cold steel," he refers them to an associate veterinarian.
Procedures with visibility challenges because of bleeding. For surgical procedures near the surface or in areas needing double layers of suture, such as the bladder and the stomach, using the laser is ideal because it seals vessels as it incises tissue. Dr. Veling has performed many canine stifle surgeries and says it's easier to see the entire surgical field because he uses the laser to quickly seal vessels in the area.
Almost all clients have continued to opt for the additional laser charge. Over the years Dr. Veling has also slowly increased the minimum charge and modified his fees for procedures needing the laser for longer periods—removal of a large tumor can cost an additional $200. Compliance is still just as high.
How to handle lasers
For simple procedures, you'll know how to use the laser on your first day. You'll also likely receive free instruction on using the laser from the manufacturer. But Dr. Veling always reminds new users about some safety issues that veterinarians never have to think about when they're using scalpels. For instance, cover up endotracheal tubes that contain flammable oxygen. Don't use alcohol as your last scrub. And remember the laser can damage vision: Everybody wears laser-light wavelength-specific goggles. And while patients don't get goggles, Dr. Veling does uses extra eye ointment to protect patients' eyes.
Be safe with the laser, sell clients on its benefits for their pets, and you too may find a new surgical laser brings in more than it costs.