How To Avoid Sticker Shock At Your Veterinary Hospital

When asked about price, 34 percent of clients say veterinary care is higher than they expected.

Have you ever slapped a client? You probably have and didn't realize it. While shadowing an appointment during a consultation, I observed a receptionist at the front desk. She said, “That will be $302 today,” and slapped the client with sticker shock.

“Wow! That's as much as my car payment,” the client exclaimed.

Asked about price, 34 percent of clients say veterinary care is higher than they expected, according to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study.1 Every team member influences perception of value. Here are ways you can turn the smack of price into satisfied clients:

Schedule first, pay last at checkout.
If a patient needs follow-up care, make the appointment before presenting today's invoice. Sticker shock may cause the client to hesitate to come back, assuming she'll pay the same $302 next time.

Because the veterinarian wants to see a dog with a skin infection again in two weeks, the receptionist should say, “Dr. Olson needs to see your dog in two weeks to ensure the skin infection has healed. That would be Feb. 22. Does this same time work for you?”

Direct the client to a specific date and time, increasing the likelihood that she'll schedule. If the client is here at 10 a.m. on a Friday, she can probably visit again at a similar time and day of the week. Book the appointment with the same doctor, ensuring continuity of care and efficient use of exam time.

When you print the client's receipt for today's care, an appointment reminder should appear on the statement.

Only 4 percent of practices always schedule medical progress exams at checkout, while 35 percent do so often and 49 percent sometimes do.1 If the client doesn't schedule the next visit at checkout, enter a callback in your practice-management software. Call the client one week before services are due.

Use the term “medical progress exam” instead of “recheck.” From a client's perspective, “recheck” sounds free and optional. Upgrade your terminology to “medical progress exam” to show value for professional services. When your team makes a habit of “schedule first, pay last,” more patients will get the follow-up care they need.

Present service first, price last at checkout.
Instead of slapping the client with the total, the receptionists should have read the list of services and products off the computer screen and said, “Today your dog had a preventive care exam, vaccines, an intestinal parasite test, heartworm/tick test, and skin cytology. You have medication for his skin infection and 12 months of heartworm, flea and tick prevention. Your total is $302. Which payment method will you be using today?”

Summarizing services before saying the amount shows value for the care delivered. Use easy-to-understand terms such as “intestinal parasite test” instead of “fecal examination.” If checking out a new client, add, “Which payment method will you be using today? We accept cash, checks, all major credit cards, and CareCredit.” Besides subtly indicating that payment is due at the time of service, you've also let her know all payment options.

State the dollar amount of free doses.
Your prices are probably better than Internet pharmacies' and retailers' when you add in the value of free doses. Make sure clients know that. Tell clients, “When you buy a six–pack of flea and tick control, you'll get two free doses—a value of $36.” Without assigning the dollar amount to extra doses, “free” sounds like zero dollars to clients. Because $36 is significant, you can help clients save money while also increasing protection from parasites for your patients.

Bring products into exam rooms.
When you offer a product in the exam room, it's medicine. When it's sold at the front desk, it's retail. Let's say a technician discharges a dental patient and explains antibiotics and home care to the client. Bring the therapeutic diet into the exam room, just as you would antibiotics.

Tell the client, “Because your dog was treated for dental disease today, she needs to eat this therapeutic diet to maintain oral health. Let me explain how to transition to the new food and also tell you how much to feed.” Provide a free measuring cup, which are available from pet food manufacturers. Use a permanent marker to write the exact amount to feed on the plastic cup.

Also bring over-the-counter flea/tick products into exam rooms. Explain the flea life cycle, how often to give a dose and demonstrate how to apply the product. Tell clients “every 30 days” instead of “monthly.” A client may apply flea/tick control to her pet today, then on the 15th next month, and on the 23rd the following month. When she complains the topical medication isn't working, it's actually due to inconsistent dosing.

Put a prescription label on the product so clients know which pet the medication belongs to, what day of the month to give the dose, and where to get refills. Send reminders to clients on the day of the month that they need to give each dose through third-party services such as Vetstreet or Pet Health Network Pro. Manufacturers' websites such as also offer email reminders.

Promote refills during preventive care exams.
When a technician greets the client in an exam room, explain which services and products are due today. Say, “For your preventive care visit, we will do a nose-to-tail exam, vaccines, intestinal parasite screen, heartworm/tick test, and refill 12 months of heartworm and flea/tick preventives. Is there anything else you want to discuss with the doctor today?”

Saying “We will refill” is a compliance technique that will get more pets on year-round protection while ensuring clients will buy from your pharmacy. If clients ask about prices, prepare treatment plans or access fees on computers in exam rooms.

Then say, “Before deciding, let's have the doctor perform an exam, and then help you prioritize which services and products your pet needs. To make year-round protection affordable, we have $12 rebates on 12 months of heartworm prevention and a six pack of flea/tick control includes two free doses valued at $36.”

When your team uses benefit statements that communicate the value of care, you'll have more satisfied clients who will continue to buy services and products from your hospital. Imagine having clients say, “Wow! Is that all?” instead of “Wow, it's how much?!!!” 


1. 2011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study conducted by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, Brakke Consulting and Bayer Animal Health. Accessed on 01/02/2013.

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