Debating the cost of care with Mrs. Haggle
When it involves the health of their pets, many people who come to my office would not waste a minute of their time thinking about the cost of treatment.
When it involves the health of their pets, many people who come to my office would not waste a minute of their time thinking about the cost of treatment. Those people are greatly outnumbered by the clients who would not spend a minute thinking about anything else. Mrs. Haggle falls into the latter category. Due to a rather common case of owner neglect, her dog, Dropsy was very sick.
I advised immediate surgery.
"I don't know, Doctor," she said. "This estimate of yours looks confusing, and this price is outlandish. It seems like you are rushing me into something. I want to go home and think about this."
She was on the phone within a half hour. "Doctor, I've been going over this estimate of yours. It says that you are going to charge me for hospitalization. You need my dog in the hospital so you can do the surgery. Isn't that right? Why should I pay for something that you need?" (How can you argue with logic like that?)
"Besides that," she continued. "I can board Dropsy over at Barky's Happy Acres Kennel for less than one third of your so-called hospitalization charge."
I simply responded that the estimate is what it is. (The implication was: Take it, or leave it.)
Another half hour went by before the next call.
"I called another hospital and explained the surgery you recommended, and it sounded to them like you were going to do something called "spading." They said that they spade dogs for a lot less and that Dropsy could be spaded there. I think your estimate uses big words just to make a routine things sound complicated."
I advised her to call them back and to use the following two phrases: 8-years-old and pyometra.
There was a whole hour between calls this time. "So far, I've talked to three other hospitals about the spading," she said. "None of them would give me an estimate without examining Dropsy. You and I both know that is just an excuse to add an exam fee. After all, you already examined her. However, one of them was willing to give me what they called a ballpark figure, and it was even higher than yours. Still, I like that ballpark figure idea. I'd like to go somewhere they tell you the total cost without itemizing all the extras like anesthesia, hospitalization, supplies and all that other stuff. That way, even if the bill was higher I wouldn't be paying for all those extras."
(True genius is seldom appreciated.)
I simply reminded her that the clock was ticking and that she needed to make a decision. Dropsy came back for the surgery a few hours later.
All went well until the pooch was ready to go home. "Oh, I can't get over there to pick her up this morning," she said. "I'll come by later. There won't be any charge if she stays longer, will there?"
Of course, there was an extra charge, and her response was typical.
"This bill doesn't make any sense," she complained. "She didn't stay a whole extra 24 hours. It's only seven o'clock at night, but you charged me for an entire extra day."
I had to explain our fee schedule. We have a checkout time similar to hotels.
"But we didn't use a whole extra day," she whined.
I tried to give her an example. "Look," I said. "If you go to a restaurant, order dinner and then only eat half of it, do you ask them to give half of your money back?"
"Of course I do," she said.
And, I believed her.
Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.
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