Dr. Ruth Sobeck was losing business. As an equine practitioner in Palos Verdes, Calif., Dr. Sobeck's competition has always
been tough. Five practices in the area fight for business with out-of-town mobile clinics. So Dr. Sobeck must make every effort
to provide the highest-quality medicine to her patients. But five years ago, she saw those efforts slipping away.
An out-of-town practice was the first to invest in digital radiography. Almost instantly, Dr. Sobeck began losing clients
who fawned over the new technology. Fearing a major hit to her practice's bottom line, she began looking into digital radiography
equipment, but her accountant advised her that it wasn't feasible at the time. But radiographs weren't the only services Dr.
Sobeck was losing to other practices. She also saw a decrease in diagnostics, treatments, and what she calls "while you're
here" services—those add-ons that clients don't necessarily plan ahead for.
Dr. Sobeck soon realized she couldn't afford not to invest in digital radiography. A year later, she took the plunge. But
after the initial excitement of her new purchase wore off, Dr. Sobeck realized she had a tough challenge ahead, one many veterinarians
in her situation face: setting digital radiography fees. She consulted fee surveys and weighed the value of the new technology
to come up with her ideal pricing. Dr. Sobeck eventually found a solution, but are you making the most of your equipment and
charging appropriately for the service?
Pick your philosophy
First, you'll want to determine your underlying fee-setting philosophy, says Dr. Mark Baus, president of Fairfield Equine
Associates in Newtown, Conn. There are two ways to compete in the digital radiography world: by offering the best price or
by offering the best service. Dr. Baus prefers service. By taking good radiographs, writing a comprehensive report about the
findings, and putting in place an archiving system that allows images to be easily read and transferred, you'll offer your
clients a level of service that will earn you their trust and confidence—and their business.
Just as with any other service, there might be other practices in your area that offer a lower price for digital radiographs.
But do they offer the same service? Do their clients leave feeling satisfied and informed? Are they paying for other services?
Most clients are glad to pay a little more to receive top-notch care for their horses.
Next, there are two ways to charge for the images themselves, says Wilson Taliaferro, practice manager for Dr. Cooper Williams
in Hampstead, Md.: by setting a fee per study (series of images taken during a single session) or a fee per image. Taliaferro
prefers charging per image because of the "while you're here" factor, which prompts clients to ask for more images on the
fly once the equipment is set up. If you charge per study, it's likely you won't always capture all possible revenue.
Find a balance
To find the right digital radiography fee, you have to balance making a profit with putting a major strain on your clients'
budgets. Charge too little and you'll struggle to pay off the equipment. Charge too much and your clients will look elsewhere
for more affordable service. A good place to start is by checking out the fees of your competitors who offer digital radiography
to get a sense of what clients in your area are paying. Researching fee surveys can give you more comprehensive and wide-ranging
information. But don't rely too much on this research, Dr. Baus says. "The entire veterinary industry charges too little for
its services," he says. "And many fee studies are outdated and therefore inaccurate by the time they're published."
Once you've done your research, it's time to crunch numbers. First, take a look at your books and figure out how many radiographic
studies you perform per year. Divide the total number of views taken by the total number of studies performed to find your