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Add some bling to your bottom line
Polish up your approach to providing these five services, and show clients you're all about good medicine.
CLIENTS COME TO YOU WHEN THEY want their pets to be the picture of perfect health. And these five services—kitten classes, dentistry, pain management, laser surgery, and diagnostics—give you great opportunities to help pets shine. (You won't mind if improving or adding these services also improves your profit margin—right?)
Karen E. Felsted, CPA, MS, CVPM
1 Kitten classes
Consider first an underserved majority: felines. Multiple studies have shown that while cats are more popular than dogs as pets, owners don't bring cats to the veterinarian as frequently as dogs or spend as much on their care. One reason is that cats, as a rule, don't like going out and about as much as dogs. A visit to the clinic can be an ordeal for both cat and owner. However, cats that are socialized as kittens won't have as much trouble visiting the practice as adults. This is where kitten classes come in.
Kitten classes usually consist of five to eight kittens (7 to 14 weeks old) and their owners gathering for an hour of play, treats, socialization exercises, and activities that acclimate them to the veterinary clinic and get them used to being examined. Participants also are taught about feline healthcare and the warning signs of illness in cats.
One of the most important ways to make this service a success is to get the word out. Be sure everyone in the practice knows about the classes, what goes on in them, why they're important, and when and where they will be held. Design a brochure touting the benefits of the classes, and post an eye-catching sign in your lobby announcing them. Let all the local humane societies and other pet organizations know about your new-kitten education.
Compliance booster: If you decide to charge owners for kitten classes, make it a nominal fee—perhaps $10 per class for nonclients and $5 for clients. The classes are worth their weight in gold—not in tuition fees, but in client retention and increased patient visits.
Take the next step: Make cats comfortable by separating them from dogs in the waiting area. Teach team members that less is more when it comes to feline restraint; really leaning on a cat can frighten it and make it even more unmanageable. And receptionists can help increase compliance by asking all clients if they have cats at home and whether they're current on their vaccinations.
2 Pain management
Pets feel pain as frequently and as intensely as people do, but as veterinarians we haven't been as aggressive as our human-medicine counterparts in managing pain when we provide care. Yet pets feel better and their recovery is often accelerated by aggressive pain control.
When you're setting fees for pain management services, look first at what you're charging for other similar injections or oral medications. Clients are generally willing to pay for pain control if you educate them about it.
Don't forget to include pain management in common services like spays and neuters, and in dentistry.
Compliance booster: If you already offer complete pain management, consider including it in all medical protocols, estimates, and computer group codes. You may want to make pain control a mandatory requirement instead of an option in many or all cases.
Take the next step: If you already use conventional pain control techniques, think about how acupuncture or chiropractic care could supplement your practice's efforts to reduce patients' pain.
3 Dental care
Dentistry for pets is not a new idea, but for all of the discussion about it, many practices still don't do much more dental care than they did five or 10 years ago. And yet it's well documented that dental care is crucial to pet health and makes for a more pleasant pet from the owner's viewpoint. The need for dentistry in the pet population almost makes this a wellness procedure; a recent AAHA study reported that an estimated 85 percent of dogs and cats 1 year or older had signs of dental disease.
True, setting fees is difficult. A full dental procedure including a prophy, extractions, dental radiographs, preanesthetic lab work, pain meds, and antibiotics can be pricey—sometimes too pricey for a client. (See "Breaking Down Dental Fees,".)
Breaking down dental fees
Compliance booster: Start with your best recommendation, but offer different levels of care if needed. The most comprehensive plan will cost the most, but most owners should be able to afford reasonable dental care, even if they can't meet the gold standard.
Take the next step: A veterinarian or technician on the team who's excited about dental care could bring the enthusiasm and focus you need to take this critical service to the next level. Look for interest in dentistry when you're hiring or offer CE to get your current team fired up.
4 Laser surgery
When looking for new services to add, practices sometimes overlook the option of improving their approach to existing services in favor of something completely new. Yet an improvement like laser surgery could be at least as important to your patients—if not more.
The benefits of laser surgery are clear: better hemostasis, reduced swelling and postoperative pain, and quicker recovery. And when you purchase a laser surgery unit, you can use it in your practice every day—as opposed to, say, an endoscope, which you would use less frequently. Fees are generally calculated as an add-on to the standard fee for a particular surgery but aren't necessarily shown that way on the invoice.
One common misconception: Some practitioners think a laser surgery unit makes sense only for a limited set of surgical services such as feline declaws. Many veterinarians, however, use lasers in most if not all of their surgeries.
Take the next step: If you're already using a laser in your practice, focus on better client education to improve compliance and provide doctors with more CE to get the most from this valuable tool.
Style needs substance
We can't treat pets if we don't know what's wrong with them. And while a thorough hands-on examination is important to the diagnostic process, nothing replaces formal laboratory testing. All doctors have had more than a few cases that have surprised them—cases when they thought they knew what was wrong, and then the test result totally changed their thinking.
Clients also value laboratory testing. Pet owners undergo diagnostic tests themselves, so they understand why they're important for their pets.
A common mistake: Different doctors in the same practice often take a radically different approach to diagnostics. For example, one doctor runs blood work, but another diagnoses the same condition with a physical examination and instinct. While all the doctors in a practice will never approach diagnostics exactly the same way, it confuses team members and clients when their methods are so different. In most cases, laboratory testing is the better way to go.
Compliance booster: Use doctor meetings, case reviews, and medical protocols to get everyone in the practice on the same page. Then deliver a consistent message to clients about your recommendations.
Take the next step: Instead of farming out all your lab work, consider leasing or buying equipment for an in-house laboratory and keeping the profit in your practice. (For more, see "Reinforcing the Benefits of In-house Testing".)
Your practice may already excel in one or more of the above areas, but you could likely improve in a few of them. Focus on the areas that appeal to you most clinically. Not only will these services improve the quality of care you offer, but they'll also help the practice financially. And a more profitable practice doesn't just mean more money in doctors' pockets—it's more money to invest in equipment, drugs, CE, staff compensation, benefits, and training. The best bling isn't a shiny collar or the perfect pet perm. It's making your patients healthier and happier—and strong relationships with clients who are happy to recommend your clinic.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Karen E. Felsted, CPA, MS, CVPM, is a consultant with Gatto McFerson in Santa Monica, Calif. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org