Pay it forward: Up front payments in the world of vet medicine
I love this Terrierman site. It pleases me to no end to see knowledgeability and common sense get play in the lay pet world in ways that explicitly encourage more of the same in others. That’s why a recent post defending up-front payments to vets while decrying the commercialization of the vet profession caught my eye and held it all the way through its winding argument.
So you know (in case you don’t already) up-front payments are getting to be the norm in the vet profession. No longer are many of us willing to wait for the end of an in-hospital treatment for payment. Too often we’ve found ourselves stiffed after our clients have racked up a sizable bill.
And that’s not cool. It stinks to have to suck up $1000 in services after working your butt off trying to fix someone’s pet. It makes us feel like we’re not worthy of your money; like you’d happily pay off your BestBuy credit card before handing us the cash we deserve. So we’ve started to put our foot down by asking for the payment up front.
I know that rankles a lot of you. It makes you feel like we don’t trust you. And you’d be right, in a general sense. We ask for your complete trust but we’re increasingly unwilling to reciprocate. And that has a way of breeding ill will between clients and vets.
In fact, every time I refer patients to specialists I’ve adopted the habit of informing their owners that they will be asked to pay for the amount of the estimate up front. That’s because 1-they have no direct relationship with you so they can’t possibly have complete faith in you based on a one hour relationship and 2-the dollar amounts tend to be much higher than ours—so should they miscalculate, they’d lose big. But my clients still get indignant over this practice (even though the back room of the speciality hospital houses several pets whose owners never paid or came back to get them).
So here' s where I explain: Pets are not like toaster ovens. Though they’re considered property in the eyes of the law, we can’t refuse you this kind of property should you fail to pay for its repairs at the end of the service period. Ever tried to get your watch from a jeweler without paying for that pricey overhaul? It’s a no go. Your pet, though? Come and get him. We won’t hold him hostage even if you are a deadbeat parent.
Truth is, if I’ve never met you, why should I effectively lend you money? In these cases, I ask for half up front. If I know you well, however, I’m willing to wait and rely on our relationship to bear fruit in the form of a payment for services rendered in good faith.
Nonetheless, this year our hospital racked up about $15,000 in receivables. That’s $15 K of pure profit that went right out the window when people didn’t own up to their side of the bargain. That’s a lot of money.
And these are not the no-pays you would expect. Imagine not paying your bill after a euthanasia house call (then refusing to answer your phone for months later). Imagine calling up AmEx to cancel your payment and making up a reason why you don’t think you should pay ("I didn’t OK those treatments, even though they saved my cat’s life"). Or how about crying poverty when your cat is blocked and then refusing to make the payments you promised? ($20 a week is doable for almost anyone, right?)
People suck sometimes.
I certainly never see holiday bonuses and those people are part of the reason why. Meanwhile, my other vet friends (whose hospitals require up-front payments) are happily expecting Christmastime cushions. Hmmmm…
As someone wise once said: We can typically afford anything we want. Problem is, we can’t always pay for everything we want. And asking for the cash up front ensures that less scrupulous pet owners don’t let other priorities get shoved in ahead of ours. That’s why we have to insult you by asking for the credit card before we do the work.
And that's why my New Year’s resolution will find me one notch harder-nosed on this score. At least Terrerman agrees with me on this one.