How it Used to Happen
For many years veterinarians offered in-house billing to clients. When I started in practice, part of my job as a CSR was printing out the billed client accounts, sticking on stamps and stuffing envelopes. We did this every 15 days and believe me it was a lot of work. We then had to manually post the payments and reduce the amount owed. Most clients paid on time but of course, there were always the ones who paid a minimum, came in and charged more and never paid off in full. Then there were the “held checks” that clients would offer and postdate until their pay day. Often, we got a call the day before they were to be deposited asking us to hold them another week – or two. This was not exactly “kosher” with the bank but we did it to try to help people afford pet care when their pet needed urgent or extensive services. And we got burned. Not much but enough that it was disheartening.
Escape from Lending
In the 90’s came CareCredit and we finally had a tool to use to get us out of the lending business. I was so grateful to be able to send letters out to all my clients explaining that the old “send me a bill” system was gone while stuffing a CareCredit application into the same envelope. It was very helpful but unfortunately many of the clients who needed options could not meet the credit requirements. We were stuck once again but still better off.
Now we had moved from internal offers of financial help to outside sources. Which was a good thing because to be truthful, we were terrible collection agents. Making those “you are overdue” calls was a job no one wanted and we were a sucker for a sob story. Perhaps you can relate. Small animal medicine was hard enough but mixed animal was a real nightmare with trainers waiting months to pay when they finished or sold a horse.
Consultants told practices that they should have less than 1% of total income in receivables and we all know most of that was staff owed debt. We learned to say “no” to clients and turn away animals who needed help. This may have been smart business but it was bad for moral. People who work in animal hospitals are driven to help animals in need and the moral dilemma of having to turn them down is breaking our collective hearts. Yet, we know we need to pay our team living wages and keep our medical facility and equipment in good repair and up to date. We were stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
As a manager I often ran a little “maverick” when it came to receivables. If I had a good client with a history with our practice who had always paid in the past ask to split a bill, I would. It was extremely rare that I got stuck because I set clear expectations about the payments, interest rates and grace periods. But these were people I knew, so I had a basis for the decisions. I also didn’t make it easy. They had to sign a promissory note and give me ID information. Sometimes this process alone deterred them from asking and they ended up paying with a credit card instead. Still, I got the “credit” for being willing to help. But it was very time consuming!
Options are Growing
In today’s market we now have more options. Companies like VetBilling offer auto drafting after a soft credit check. Scratch pay is available and slightly different from CareCredit when it comes to approvals. Now Weave has rolled out a new and exciting product called Buy Now, Pay Later.
Why is this exciting? Because veterinarian practices can offer clients a pay overtime option and it can be done fast and over their phone rather than having to manually enter data and wait for approval. It is integrated into the Weave system so we have a button to push to make the offer. The practice also receives 100% of the bill owed immediately and the client is billed in increments. The approval rate is very high. Everyone wins!
With staffing shortages running rampant in veterinary hospitals the speed of application is a big-time saver and frees our team to do what we do best… care for animals and connect with their humans.
I have always believed we should offer as many options as possible to help clients and their pets afford the care needed. It is not only good for the patients but it shows that the “you are only in it for the money” accusations are false. “We realize care can be expensive and we are proactively doing the work to help you” is the message we are sharing.
Veterinary care has advanced exponentially in complexity and cost since my first CSR job in 1985. Practices need systems in place for payment as we advance in medicine so we don’t have to let pets suffer nor suffer ourselves when we have to refuse help to a patient because of client financial limitations.
and serve more clients?
Flexible payment options allows you to serve more patients
With Buy Now, Pay Later comes less payment worries for your practice and your clients.Schedule Demo
Foundations and Charities
Not everyone will qualify for our credit offerings so having an inhouse charitable fund like the Veterinary Care Foundation or the AVMA Foundation is an additional offering of help we can give. My recommendation is to set up the guidelines of who will be eligible for these donations prior to having a situation in front of you. You can opt for “good Samaritan “cases, or only existing clients or only cases with a positive prognosis. The choice is up to you but realize these funds are limited and can only go so far. By using the foundations I mentioned, you can solicit clients who have means to donate and have their donations be tax deductible. This is the major difference between most informal “angel funds” and a formal foundation with tax status.
Many years ago, I created a list of helpful ideas for finding funds that hospitals could use to help clients. Ideas such as pay advances from employers, pawning old jewelry or guns, crowd funding on social media (do have payment come to the practice), online charities like Maddie’s Fund and more. In stressful situations people can’t think to problem solve for themselves. It is our job to help them by offering ideas and tools.
So, whose job is it to figure out client financing? It is the job of the veterinary practice. We have great tools available. It is time to step up to the plate and use them!