The Silver Lining

Veterinarians often indirectly benefit from other people’s pain, misery and disasters.

Client disaster can mean turning a profit for businesses. For clients, however, their situation can be expensive if not life changing.

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Recently, my community was blasted with a windy storm pushing gusts of over 80 mph. We only sustained minor damage to our new fence, while some around us had entire trees blow over, and in other areas many houses and garages were severely damaged. As the people pick up the pieces, literally, and try to move forward through their own personal tragedy, it occurs to me that even in the midst of such loss, there is someone who gains … the fence company who has new repair jobs, the construction crews who will rebuild houses and garages, the tree guy who cuts up and hauls off those fallen trees, for a price of course.

Everywhere you look, when someone suffers, someone gains. I sat next to a geologist on a plane once who was hoping for a bitter, icy winter—his company sells ice for the roads. There are always two sides of the story, so to speak, and the most important thing is to remain sensitive to that other side; you don’t celebrate the new job when a family has lost their home, for example, at least not in their presence.

Also, their decisions, whether they move forward or stop, directly affects our practice’s profitability and ability to provide us a paycheck. We know that money is far from our minds while we do our work; we do not consider ourselves "salespeople” in the slimy meaning of the word, so it offends us immensely to hear clients say "you’re all about the money,” "you’re going to let my cat die if I can’t pay?” "is money all you people care about?”

Recently, I visited my good friend Val, the home pet hospice nurse and colleague of mine. She works a lot with end-of-life communication, as you might expect. And she explained euthanasia in a way that I hadn’t heard before … that we are asking a family to kill a beloved part of that family. Of course, we see the animal’s suffering, we understand better than most the equation for "quality of life,” yet we must always keep in mind the grave task we are asking of our families.

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Yet turn it around, and look at how getting burned in the past has caused us to come off "all about the money” in the minds of our clients. It’s having people who did NOT pay us in the past that has led us to implement policies such as:

  • A signed initial estimate before we begin treatment.
  • A quote over the phone for the emergency exam in a crisis.
  • The discussion of our financial policies during patient admission.
  • The signs in our lobby promoting a financing plan for our clients.
  • Checking out a client when they come back for their pet, before they even talk to anyone about their pet.

Guess what? It’s no wonder they THINK we are all about the money! Believe me, I’ve managed accounts receivable myself, and I understand why we have these policies in place … because we feel that we can’t afford NOT to have them in place.

Yet we owe it to our families to see things from their perspective as well. We are a service that people often need during despairing situations: a sick pet, an injured pet, a pet that has a family worried about its long-term health if they cannot afford preventive medicine. In the most basic sense, we profit from their misfortune in a lot of cases.

So we just owe it to them to realize their position as well, and make it more about compassion than the checkbook. Examine policies to determine if they’re necessary, if they’re beneficial, or if they can be approaching in a more empathic way. Make sure our silver lining is gained in the most compassionate way possible.

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