Offering clients payment options (Proceedings)

One of the many unhappy lessons veterinarians and their teams have had to learn from the recession is that clients don't have bottomless wallets filled with cash to spend on veterinary care. Data from the May, 2009 NCVEI QuickPoll showed that 74% of clients were using payment options they hadn't used in the past; these included pet insurance, third party payment plans and in-clinic billing options.

In addition to the recession, clients are dealing with the increasing costs of veterinary care resulting from the availability of more sophisticated medical options, the extended life span of pets which results in more routine care spending as well as an increased likelihood of the pet developing a serious and/or chronic disease and fee increases well above the rate of inflation. Even clients who are fully committed to providing quality care are looking at payment alternatives.

It's not reasonable to think that we can just give veterinary care away; running a veterinary hospital isn't cheap and veterinarians and their staff have the same need to earn a good living as anyone else. But there are things we can do. First of all, create a written financial policy for your practice. Everyone in the practice must be knowledgeable about the practice's expectations about payment before talking to clients about their financial options. Most practices don't have a formal financial policy; however, clients want to know what to expect. This increases treatment acceptance by eliminating "fear of cost."

The National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues has created a Financial Policy Builder to help practices create their own personalized policy. It is available at: The tool will guide the practice through a series of questions about payment options and related policies and then create a fully customizable, downloadable word document for the practice. This document can be edited as you wish and then will serve as a template for staff training and to give to clients.

Payment options for clients generally fall into three categories: in-house delayed billing of various types, third-party payment plans and pet insurance.

For years, many practices used in-house delayed billing plans to help clients who couldn't come up with the cash necessary for their pet's care at the time of service. These generally took the form of held checks or statements sent post treatment with the idea that clients would pay when they received the statement, either in full or in installments. Practices had varying degrees of success in actually collecting these amounts and the trend has been away from in-house options and towards third party payment plans and pet insurance.