For 21 years, Bruce Little, DVM, cared for the animals of Bloomington, Ill., and he still looks back on that time with great pride and affection.
But there’s one aspect of his practice he would just as soon consign to the dark crevices of history.
“I’m sorry to say that I practiced in a time when euthanasia was one of the clinical options,” says Dr. Little, who now does veterinary practice consulting as principal at Las Vegas-based Bruce Little Associates after 23 years as an executive of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“It was a common part of the conversation,” he says. “ ‘We can pin the fibula, cast it, or euthanize the pet and you can go get another one.’ ”
So perhaps no one is more pleased that these days veterinarians have clinical and financial tools that take economic euthanasia off the table. One tool is third-party financing, the value of which Little is working to help doctors and practice managers better understand.
What It Is
Third-party financing allows qualified clients to pay expenses over time, making it easier for them to say “yes” to more costly treatments when they don’t have pet insurance or when treatments aren’t covered by their insurance.
Little serves on the board of pet health insurer Pets Best of Boise, Idaho. In May it launched a strategic alliance with ChaseHealthAdvance financing options, a nationwide third-party lender that works with veterinarians and other health care professionals.
The association of mutual referral illustrates the growing role of third-party financial institutions in keeping medical and veterinary care within reach as the range of procedures expands and costs rise.
“We want veterinarians to know about the variety of payment plans available to pet owners,” says Barry Trexler, senior vice president of ChaseHealthAdvance, a division of Chase. “We also offer complimentary practice management tools to practices to help them to communicate to their clients about these options.
“When people find out the family pet needs a $5,000 treatment, it can be quite a shock,” Trexler says. “But with a no-interest payment option up to 24 months, they won’t have to put any money down and will have 24 equal payments of $210 a month. That becomes a real solution for the client when the health of a pet is at stake.”
Under the Radar
Jack Stephens, DVM, founder of Pets Best and a pioneer in pet insurance, notes that most pet owners don’t know about insurance or third-party financing unless they hear about it from their veterinarians.
“Unfortunately, people too often are unaware or unprepared when serious injury or illness hits,” he says. “An experience with third-party financing helps make the case for insurance and the possibility for next time.”
Little says his role is to help veterinarians realize that tools such as third-party financing shift the burden to the financial company and away from them and their practice.
“That way, the veterinarians can pay their bills, meet their payroll and focus on treating animals as well as keeping up with new technology,” he adds.
Little formerly served as a trustee of the AVMA’s Professional Liability Insurance Trust and says as many as 80 percent of lawsuits against veterinarians were the result of their trying to collect past-due bills.
Other options for practitioners are to discount services to a level they think the client can afford or sometimes even provide services for free. But with the high costs of equipment and skilled staff necessary to perform complex procedures, free care is anything but a viable option, Little notes.
“You don’t have enough paper to list all of the veterinarians who got into financial distress because of giving away services,” he told a reporter.
Little knows first-hand the delicacy of balancing a practice’s financial obligations against the desire to aid cash-strapped pet owners.
“I don’t know how many times over an exam table the technicians would try to talk me out of making such compromises,” he recalls. “They’d say, ‘You can’t offer discounts to everyone or you won’t be able to pay our salaries.’ ”
Little advises veterinarians and practice managers to take advantage of the complimentary case acceptance tools provided by third-party financial institutions. For instance, ChaseHealthAdvance offers free Web banners for practitioners to link their Websites to a Chase credit application and payment calculator.
Other tools include a welcome letter that practitioners can share with new clients. It communicates upfront the affordability of various payment methods and offers a fee-presentation worksheet that, when filled in, details the minimum monthly payments for both no-interest plans and extended-payment plans of up to 48 months.
Little says he wishes such tools had been available to him when he was practicing. Maybe then, more clients would have complied with long-term treatment plans, and maybe he could have spent less time trying to determine each client’s ability to pay and discounting his fees accordingly.
“It was a far different era,” he says. “I’m just glad that today I can tell veterinarians about the variety of available options.”
And that one wrenching option is no longer a part of the conversation.
This Education Series article is underwritten by ChaseHealthAdvance of Wilmington, Del.
This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News