Holding a check, discounting services, letting clients work off bills, and more
Dr. Karl Salzsieder, JD, a consultant with Salzsieder Consulting and Legal Services in Longview, Wash., explains the pros and cons of alternative methods of client payments.
In Dr. Salzsieder's jurisdiction in Washington state, if you accept a check knowing there aren't funds to cover it and then discover it bounces later, the police can't prosecute on the bad check. "Veterinarians have been holding checks for years," he says. "But it's not the thing to do anymore."
Dr. Salzsieder says it's better to break out your services and perform them over time so a client can pay for them over time. In addition to harming your practice's fiscal health and future value, discounting services on a case-by-case basis punishes those who don't ask for discounts. "How is that equitable or fair?" Dr. Salzsieder asks.
If you're set on regularly offering discounts or giving away services, consider setting up an internal payment plan instead. Your healthcare will remain top-notch, and at least you'll have the chance to receive payment for your services. Dr. Salzsieder cites credit bureau surveys that show that more than 80 percent of clients in all walks of life will pay off their debts over time. You may lose less money with deferred payments than in discounts and giveaways.
Sometimes there are emergencies, and pets that show up at your door require triage help—even if a client can't pay. But in cases that aren't emergencies, giving away services undervalues your work and underestimates your own fixed and variable costs. Dr. Salzsieder says veterinarians are likely to be more lax with record-keeping in free-care situations as well. But when you cut corners to offer some level of care to a client down on his or her luck, that's when your record-keeping and medical justifications are more needed then ever. If a client files a complaint with the licensing board, the board will turn to your records to find out why a pet received less care than normal. If you're sloppy with records when you deviate from your normal high-quality medical protocols, you open yourself up to future legal problems and licensing board penalties when complaints are filed.
These internally managed angel funds pay for services for financially struggling clients. You, other clients, and team members can contribute. Also, consider sending pet owners to nonprofits in your area for help. Some of these groups evaluate individuals' neediness, something you're not capable of doing.
If nonemployees come to work to do employees' jobs, your liability insurance probably won't cover these volunteers. That's a lawsuit in the making. When someone who doesn't own a business gets hurt mopping the floor or mowing the lawn, you could be on the hook for their injury. "No one thinks it can happen to them," Dr. Salzsieder says. "But it can. And it does."