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Affordability vs. excellence: Do veterinarians have to choose?


Management experts differ on offering clients options.

Recently, during CVC Kansas City, I had the privilege of conversing with (and eavesdropping on) some of the most prominent thought leaders in veterinary business management. And it seemed to me that I heard a somewhat new line of reasoning emerging in light of recent economic difficulties affecting our profession.

This school of thought asserts that veterinarians take into account their clients' financial situation when making recommendations for their pets' healthcare needs. Instead of offering the Rolls-Royce of treatment, offer the less-glamorous but still-reliable Chevy. Tell the client that you can prescribe this inexpensive medication first, and if it works—great. If not, you'll perform the more costly diagnostics.

After all, these opinion leaders say, if we present a healthcare plan and the client can't pay, what do we do—nothing? Euthanize? If we don't offer clients options, we risk becoming a profession accessible only to the elite. Plus, times are changing: Frugality is the new reality for all our clients—even those with deep pockets want to negotiate a bargain. And, finally, getting $50 from a client (vs. $250) is better than getting nothing and losing that client in the process.

On the face of it, this line of thinking smarts a little because it challenges much of what Veterinary Economics has preached for decades. Don't X-ray clients' wallets. You don't know what that farmer is willing to spend on his barn cat—it may be a favored companion. Create high-level standards of care and make sure you recommend them consistently, to every client. Cultivate and market to that top 20 percent of your client base—your "A" clients—who are willing to spend anything to keep their pets happy and healthy.

And this train of thought was also reinforced by many practice management experts throughout the conference. One speaker made the point that if you increase the likelihood of a successful first-treatment outcome for a patient, you save that pet owner time, hassle, and frustration, thereby improving his or her experience in your practice and increasing your chances of seeing that client again.

So how do these two apparently divergent points of view fit together—if indeed they do at all? Is there a way to maintain excellent medical standards, charge appropriately for them, and still be a compassionate veterinarian who's accessible to the majority of pet owners in the community? I'm still mulling these questions over, but I think part of the answer may be the concept of incremental visits, or breaking up care over the course of several visits so the client isn't hit with a whopping bill all at once.

So what do you think? Any examples of how you're making it work on both ends? Please let me know. After all, we're all learning together.

Kristi Reimer, Editor


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