The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Cash strapped? Five Ways Veterinarians Can Help

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Talk to Vet about Money

Few of us are spared the financial doldrums from time to time –– less still given the economic commotion we’ve recently endured. But not to fear: Plenty of veterinarians have got your back. We know it’s tough out there and we’re prepared to help. Here’s how:

#1 A “Sliding Scale” of Offerings

Veterinarians don’t always know if you’re experiencing financial stress. That’s why you should always express yourself on this point. Once you do, your veterinarian will be better equipped to offer you a range of diagnostic and treatment options for what ails your pet.

This “sliding scale,” if you will, includes a range of offerings –– everything from the “Cadillac plan” chocked with all manner of bells and whistles to one-step-at-a-time solutions for those who need to proceed with caution lest they exhaust their reserves even before initiating treatment.

#2 Forms of Payment

Veterinarians can help clients out immensely by accepting multiple forms of payment, including personal checks, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and the like. Exact change for the rare times when pet owners pay in cash is also helpful, I’m told.

#3 Pet Health Insurance

This one’s a no-brainer for me. In fact, I’m aghast at how few pet owners opt for pet health insurance policies for their pets. I mean, why not buy a product with the power to save your pet’s life? (I know, I know, this is a pet insurance-sponsored site. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t pitch pet insurance to my clients every single day of my working life.)

#4 Third Party Payment Plans

This is a significant (and growing) sector of the pet healthcare industry. These plans (common among human dentists, too) work essentially like credit cards. For those who qualify, they can be a great way of financing an unexpected vet bill.

#5 In-House Delayed Billing (aka, a “payment plan”)

Some veterinarians still offer payment plans. But let me be honest: This is a waning practice, probably because plenty of payment plans never get satisfied.

Indeed, the only time our office offers payment plans is to long-time clients whose pets suffer life-threatening injuries or illnesses (never for elective services). In other words, we’re willing to pay for a pet’s care up front only when we know they absolutely need it and that if we don’t get paid it’s for a really, really good reason.

That may sound unduly harsh, but here’s the good news: Clients who meet the terms of their agreement will almost certainly get the same concession for their pet’s next serious vet issue.

A Little Data

Curious to see how some of these methods stack up? According to the 2009 Veterinary Economics State of the Industry Study, here are the top five methods of client payment, in order of popularity:

  1. Credit card
  2. Check
  3. Cash or bank debit card
  4. Third-party payment plan
  5. Pet insurance

And here’s how some methods rank among veterinarians:

  • 57% offer third-party payment plans,
  • 55% allow clients to pay through internal payment plans, and
  • 52% encourage clients to buy pet insurance.

Me? I believe in them all. And you can bet that as pet healthcare becomes increasingly sophisticated (read: expensive), veterinarians will grow their financial options. After all, you don’t have be a business geek to know that veterinarians who offer few options … get few takers. Yes, compassion really does pay.

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