Imagine you receive a call about a horse experiencing a severe case of colic. You stabilize the horse and perform a physical
examination, after which the horse exhibits signs of colic again.
You discuss medical and surgical treatments and the prognosis of each with your client, who's obviously upset by your findings
and by the prospect of losing the horse. You know from experience that the response to treatment is unpredictable. The horse
may respond to therapy, may fail to respond, or may die—no matter what you attempt. You can provide: 1. a referral to a specialist;
2. in-house care with ICU hospitalization, IV fluids, and frequent lab monitoring; 3. in-house care with symptomatic treatment;
or 4. symptomatic treatment on-site.
Consider your costs
Select the treatment you would offer if your client were a teenage girl with a backyard horse. What if your client were an
absentee owner of a stakes winner represented by a trainer?
Small animal veterinarians who responded to a similar scenario as part of The Brakke Management and Behavior Study in 1999
more frequently said they'd offer better treatment options to a client described as a successful young professional than a
client described as an elderly widow of modest means.
Now consider the scenario about the colicky horse again. Except this time, make your treatment selection based on whether
your patient is in a state like Montana or West Virginia or a state like California or Florida. Would you offer the same treatment
no matter where your client lives? Should you? Yes—but that doesn't always happen.
The key: Good business leads to good medicine and strong relationships with clients. And three simple steps lay the foundation
for fair fees: focus on your patients' needs, attract clients you feel good about serving, and communicate the value you offer
Focus on your patients
"Veterinarians should offer their clients options, starting with the highest quality medicine, regardless of the practice's
location or the client's situation," says Dr. Rick Lesser, part owner of the Equine Clinic at OakenCroft in Ravena, N.Y. "Don't
compromise your medicine."
On the other hand, you can't expect to develop a profitable practice in an area that's short on clients or money. "You can't
expect that clients will always choose Beverly Hills service in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan," says Dr. Andy Clark, MBA, an equine
practice management consultant with New West Horse Co. in Oakdale, Calif. "You can't always provide the appropriate care."
However, he agrees it's important to offer clients the best choice first. Then, without negotiating the price, offer the second-best
choice and the third-best choice, stopping at a minimum level of care that is legally defensible and ethical.
Your clients won't always make the choices you'd like. As Dr. Clark says, "Life isn't fair. But it's not our duty to subsidize
someone's hobby. If they can't afford the appropriate care, they probably shouldn't own a horse."
One key lesson: You can't prejudge clients, Dr. Clark says. He knows of owners who pooled their resources to pay for care.
And he knows owners who could have easily afforded the best care for their horse and didn't choose it.