The A's to your Q's


Got a burning question? You just might find the answer here.

Q: I'd love to start requiring payment when services are rendered, but my clients expect me to bill them. How do I change my system this late in the game?

A: "Gently inform clients that you're starting to require payment at the time of service," says Dr. Emily Williamson, owner of Sixth Day Vet Practice in Bargersville, Ind. "Keep in mind, you need to send this message yourself. If staff members send out the word, some clients may think they're a special case and you'll allow them to continue charging."

You may find these conversations difficult, and it's OK to hedge if you need to, Dr. Williamson says. "For example, you could blame the change on your nameless accountant who decided it isn't feasible for the practice to extend credit after reviewing the 2006 books," she says.

Be prepared; it may take clients months to get used to the idea. "Note the date you explain the policy change on the record and every time you remind them. If they keep 'forgetting,' remind them of these discussions," she says.

Worried about losing clients? "If someone really has a problem and he or she is a good credit risk, I'll hold a check for half the amount of the invoice for a week or two," Dr. Williamson says. "But I've found that clients who continually give me a hard time aren't planning to pay anyway. And in my book, it's better not to work than to work for nothing."

Q: What precautions for personal safety should I take as a female ambulatory practitioner when making calls on unfamiliar clients?

A: "First, get as much information as you can before your visit," says Dr. Carin Smith, a consultant in Peshastin, Wash. "For example, call and ask whether there's a spouse whose name you should add to the record." Knowing someone else is around might make you feel more secure.

Also ask the client to contact the previous veterinarian to authorize the release of the patient's medical records. Then call the veterinarian to clarify entries on the record—and get a feel for the client's character.

Some other strategies: Take an assistant along on calls, and don't be shy about defining your personal space. "Some women feel uncomfortable speaking up," Dr. Smith says. "I suggest that you say clearly, with a smile, 'Personal space!' so the client can modify body language that bothers you.

Dr. Smith also suggests taking a self-defense class. "However, I don't recommend carrying any kind of weapon," she says. "Instead, I'd carry a 911 call gadget in my pocket." Finally, trust your gut and don't feel bad about turning down work. Your safety and comfort are more important. ?

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