4 ways to help clients pay for veterinary care

December 15, 2019
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Vetted, Vetted February 2020, Volume 115, Issue 2

Veterinary app creator Mark Olcott, DVM, shares a top-level view of client payment options—and the need to actually try these options—with Fetch dvm360 attendees.

Kicking off his session on helping veterinary clients pay, Mark Olcott, DVM, creator of the VitusVet app, told attendees on Saturday at Fetch dvm360 in San Diego that the issue is big-and it's not just a matter of competing with other practices or care providers. It's between care and no care.

“These pet owners have the opportunity to do nothing,” Dr. Olcott said.

Have you explored the four major client payment options recently in your veterinary hospital? Is it time for small tweaks in your methods or a big, visionary move that could revitalize revenue and grab a new generation of clients?

“Millennials are used to choices,” Dr. Olcott said. Give them what they need.

No. 1: Pet health insurance-covered before the cost

Yes, pet insurance is big in a couple of other countries. But less than 2% of pets are covered in the United States, Dr. Olcott explained, and realistic estimates have it continuing to grow slowly in this country. That's despite the fact that it can be a prudent, lifesaving matter for many pets down the road.

Companies like Nationwide have made it easier to understand reimbursement rates with policies that cover everything. Companies like Trupanion have made it easy for practices to get paid fast by prioritizing practice software integration. And data show that insured pets get more care at veterinary practices.

Some veterinary hospitals help tons of clients choose to adopt pet insurance; others make no recommendation at all or dump a bunch of brochures in clients' laps and call it good.

“Some practices don't want anything to do with recommending pet insurance, and that's OK,” Dr. Olcott said. “But clients are looking for advocacy.”

The best advice is, pick an insurance company or two and be ready to explain, quickly, why you recommend those companies.

No. 2: Point-of-sale credit-coverage on credit

Whether it's the reigning king, CareCredit, or newer players like Scratchpay, or ways to manage payment plans in-house with VetBilling, Dr. Olcott said most practices offer at least one option here.

But, like pet insurance, for too many practices it's set-it-and-forget-it: “Here's a brochure. Let us know if you have questions.” And if clients can't get credit or a payment plan, that means the veterinary practice faces the same problem: denying pets care.

One solution may be for a practice to more actively encourage clients to get approved for the credit before they need it.

No. 3: Wellness plans-spread out the payment

If you're talking wellness/preventive care, get your clients “subscribed” to your veterinary hospital, a la Amazon Prime, Netflix or, yes, Banfield.

“We sort of get righteously indignant when clients don't comply with our vaccine protocols, but we're not compliant either,” Dr. Olcott said. “How many kids would be vaccinated if schools didn't require it?”

True payment synergy

One Fetch dvm360 conference attendee said he started wellness plans at his practice but got burned when some clients received a year's care and then quit paying their monthly payments. Now he gets clients to pay for the full year on CareCredit, and he doesn't need to deal with accounts receivable on the annual costs.

Players like VCP help practices craft customized plans, but Dr. Olcott mentioned two big problems: Most practices want software to be infinitely customizable for each case (that's impossible), and successful practices don't just “bolt on” wellness plans.

“It has to be in your bones,” he said. That means it must be presented to every client, talked up at every practice meeting and passionately supported by the whole team.

No. 4: Endless innovation-phoning in money

Remember that bit about millennials wanting choices? The world is giving it to them: Affirm, Klarna, DigniFi, Simplee, Kabbage, Venmo, Bitpay, Toast, Stripe, Bread, LendUp-all ways to slice and dice payments and pay with smartphones wherever users are.

“The battle [to get paid] is going to be won and lost in the exam room,” Dr. Olcott said, highlighting that ease of use and convenience will ultimately carry the day. “If a veterinary technician on her first day of work can process a transaction with my mom in the exam room, we win.”

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