15 ways to boost practice income


These proven strategies will help your practice make more money--and offer better client and patient care

Every day, veterinary practices let revenue slip through their fingers. Why should you care? Because the more profit a practice earns, the more it can pay its staff. In this article, I suggest 15 ways your team can rev up income—and the biggest payoff is that these tips can help you offer better client and patient care.

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1 Charge for all services

Where else can you receive products or services for free? If you fail to charge for ear cleanings, nail trims, or any service, you're missing out on significant revenue—and minimizing the value of your hospital team's time and services.

2 Offer full-service care

Educating clients about the preventive procedures you recommend is your obligation as a healthcare provider. To ensure that your team offers every client all the services her pet needs for optimum health, I suggest using a pre-exam checklist, which describes all the preventive procedures a pet might need.

3 Improve your reminders

My consulting work suggests that about 58 percent of veterinary patients are overdue on their vaccinations or have incomplete or nonexistent vaccination histories. To solve this problem, ask clients to list vaccination information on your new-client forms—even if they need to guesstimate.

Your next step: Develop an effective reminder system. The system I recommend consists of three elements: A post card, followed by a tri-fold reminder letter, followed by a final "pet health alert" post card.

Attention managers: Update your fee schedule!

4 Establish recommended service codes

When a patient needs a service—dental care, for example—but the client hedges, how do you respond? Instead of simply hoping that the client eventually will schedule an appointment, be proactive.

Set up recommended service codes in the computer, and link these services to a telephone recall. If the client doesn't schedule an appointment before a specific date, the computer will generate a reminder notice. Then you can call the client to explain the procedure's importance and to schedule an appointment for her pet.

5 Offer preanesthetic blood profiles

This service increases your chances of catching potentially dangerous conditions and generates income. An easy way to incorporate the service: Place a check box on your surgical consent form so clients can indicate whether they want you to perform blood work for their pets. Include a release statement that clients must sign, acknowledging that if they refuse the blood work, they accept responsibility for any resulting problems.

Keep tabs on discounts

6 Free up the doctor

According to a study conducted by the North American Veterinary Technicians Association, most veterinarians spend only 50 percent of their time performing veterinarian-specific duties. And no one disputes that a veterinarian's time is better spent performing a comprehensive physical exam than doing a fecal check, answering the phone, or refereeing employee disputes.

After all, freeing the doctor's time for medicine earns more revenue for the hospital. That's why it's important to look at what additional tasks each team member could perform in the practice. Do you see things you could do? Volunteer!

7 Charge dispensing fees

A dispensing fee covers prescription labeling and preparation costs. And if you


charge a dispensing fee, you greatly reduce the profit margin on inventory items. You may lower the fee for such products as heartworm preventive that don't require counting or repackaging.

Although dispensing fees vary substantially, the fee for packaging and labeling might range from $7 to $12, and label-only prescriptions might cost $3 to $7. Keep in mind that a dispensing fee is "hidden" in the total prescription cost.

Practices should charge a minimum fee of $9 to $12 for any prescription item. Set your computer to default to this minimum charge when dispensing and prescription fees fall short. For example, say you filled a prescription for 30 pills that cost $3. To cover the cost of dispensing you'd add a $7 fee, making the total $10. If your practice's minimum prescription fee were $12, the client would pay $12.

8 Offer boarding services

If you don't offer boarding—but you could—consider providing clients with this profitable, sought-after service. If you already offer boarding, consider incorporating special boarding services. For example, you might develop a higher priced "TLC" package that includes two walks or feline play periods, a lamb's wool rug in the pet's lodging, a boarding report card upon discharge, and extra tender loving care.

You'll be surprised how popular such upgraded accommodations become. And new clients may pick your practice because they hear about your superb boarding services.

9 Offer grooming services

Grooming also helps you provide a full-service approach, and a good groomer can help increase your caseload by identifying eye, ear, and skin problems. Most hospitals pay groomers based on their production—on average about 50 percent.

To market the service, post signs outside the practice and in the reception area, and list the groomer in the Yellow Pages. To grow repeat business, send a reminder four to six weeks after a pet visits for grooming.

10 Create a pet adoption center

This service can boost income, expand your client base, and generate goodwill, and it doesn't need to be elaborate. Simply place cages with playful pets in the reception area.

Many practices align with a local animal shelter, which can provide adoptable puppies and kittens. This helps solve two problems: The humane society quarantines pets before they come to the practice, reducing the risk of passing infections to patients. And if a pet isn't adopted, the shelter takes it back.

Charge an adoption fee to cover vaccinations, exams, and spaying or neutering, and require payment up front. I also suggest you adopt a "no questions asked" policy for pets returned within 90 days of adoption.

11 Offer obedience classes

Pet owners give up an estimated 60 percent of animals because of behavior problems. As veterinary healthcare providers, it's our responsibility to address the urgent need for better behavior education. Another positive: Selling the products the trainer recommends can make behavior classes an attractive profit center.

Someone outside the practice or an experienced team member generally teaches obedience classes. Clients pay a flat fee for six or eight weeks of pet training, and the trainer usually receives a percentage.

If your team isn't ready to offer obedience training, free "puppy parties" can give you a chance to bond with clients and to educate them about puppy care and training.

12 Recharge a slow period

Through target marketing, you can educate your clients about specific, timely preventive care topics that will bring them through your doors. One example: Develop a geriatric wellness program and promote it during your slowest season. To market your campaign, you must:

  • Develop a package of health services that meets your goals. For example, a geriatric wellness program might include a comprehensive physical exam, annual blood tests, a weight-control program, and so on.

  • Identify your target audience. For example, clients who own dogs and cats 7 years old and older.

  • Educate the target group. Tell clients why their older pets need special care.

  • Offer clients an incentive to take advantage of the package. For example, offer an additional service that costs you very little when clients purchase the entire package. Remember, the goal is to increase revenue, not to give services away.

13 Offer fewer discounts

Some compelling studies say that for every dollar you discount, you must make up $4 somewhere else. Discounts are costly to your practice, and you may be surprised at how many dollars you gave away last year.

In my opinion, only two groups of people must receive a veterinary discount: senior citizens and employees. Why? You don't want a large number of older people on low fixed incomes to bypass your hospital because you don't give them a price break. And employee discounts likely are part of your benefits package.

14 Initiate staff incentives

When the staff performs to the best of its ability, everyone should reap the rewards of practice success. Set a specific, attainable goal—such as increasing the percentage of clients who approve preanesthetic blood work for their pets. Chart your team's progress, and post the results. When team members meet the goal, give them the reward they choose.

Offer several reward options, and ask team members to vote for their favorite one. Some options include: movie tickets, an elegant dinner, extra days of paid vacation, cash bonuses, and profit sharing. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

15 Educate the entire team

The more your team members know, the more effectively they can educate clients and market your practice's services. Schedule regular in-house meetings on such topics as dental care and nutrition at least once a month to keep your team up to speed. Also look into continuing education opportunities away from the practice.

Your team doesn't need to implement every idea in this article to bring more money into the hospital. Focus on the strategies that are most likely to work for you. No matter what ideas you implement, everyone in the practice must commit to the team's plan. The benefits to your practice, your team, and your patients are endless.

Mark Opperman, CVPM, a Firstline advisory board member and author of The Art of Veterinary Practice Management (Veterinary Medicine Publishing Group, 1999), speaks nationally on staff issues in his seminar "It's What's Up Front That Counts."

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