Have you ever walked out of the vet hospital only to recognize that your wallet is heavier than it should be? You check out your invoice and staring back at you in black and white is the unmistakable reason: You didn’t get charged for that cytology out to the skin pathologist. That’s $125. What do you do?

It usually happens like this: you’ve been so busy talking with your veterinarian about your pet’s newest problem that she forgets to charge you for something she did during the first half of the visit.

But sometimes you catch the error and ask the hospital staff whether your veterinarian intended to offer you this discount. Other times, after you’re long gone, an intrepid receptionist will catch the error and call you to let you know it occurred. She informs you that it’ll just ride as a balance and since it was the hospital’s error, it’s OK for you to pay it when you next come in.

Fair’s fair, right?

Still, when faced with this scenario, most pet owners will be a little put out. After all, it’s hard enough hearing the invoice total the first time around. Knowing your net outlay is even bigger than you thought it was is never without its psychological perils.

Yet for every time you get a call from someone who has caught an error, ten or twenty more errors will fly under the hospital’s radar or be allowed to "slide" … as when the hospital management deems it not worth upsetting you to ask for the $10 or $20 they missed.

Yes, it’s inevitable that these "missed charges" will happen. In fact, they happen so routinely that some hospitals make room for them on their books the same way many retail stores plan for "shortages" (aka shoplifting). Which means that in order to retain the level of profitability they believe is fair they’ll charge more for all of their services, and that’s typically not good for the average client.

I’m sure everyone prefers to be charged correctly the first time. After all, no one wants to subsidize the carelessness of a disorganized vet or the emerging senility of an older one, just as no one wants to subsidize the five-finger discount shoppers when shopping at Macy’s.

But that’s human nature for you, I say. There’s no doubt that things should be as fair as possible. So, given that premise, the real issue for most veterinarians is this: when "missed charges" do get chased down, how should a hospital handle them? Should clients get a call no matter what? Or should it land on the hospital’s head in every case? I prefer something in the middle, as I’ve described above, but what’s the magic number at which a veterinary establishment deserves to "eat" the sum?

Your turn …

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: "Cat and Dog in peace" by pizzodisevo