Bad reaction: How to prevent your veterinary practice from falling in the reactive medicine trap

Bad reaction: How to prevent your veterinary practice from falling in the reactive medicine trap

You may have found yourself dealing with an ailing pet, its angry owners and stiff competition from a nearby clinic. Use these tips to help you steer clear of detrimental, reactive practices and focus on providing the best care possible—proactively.
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Mar 01, 2014


For Dr. Jennifer Hayes of Mountain View Animal Clinic, caring for Brutus the Rottweiler was the least of her worries. Learn from her mistakes and make proactive medicine standard in your practice. (THINKSTOCK/MOODBOARD)
One Friday afternoon, Dr. Jennifer Hayes of Mountain View Animal Clinic entered an exam room to find a young couple nearly hidden behind their large 4-year-old Rottweiler, Brutus. Brutus was perched precariously in one of the fiberglass chairs, wedging his owners, Julie and John, into a corner.

"Don't worry, Doctor, he does this all the time," said Julie. John stayed silent, watching Dr. Hayes intently.

At that moment Brutus shook his head, and Dr. Hayes could hear the thud of his right ear against the exam-room wall. The result was a bloody ear print, and the ear hematoma was obvious. The pungent odor of underlying infection filled the room.

Before Dr. Hayes could address the owners, she was interrupted by a quiet knock on the door. It was Tamara, her receptionist, who beckoned her outside the exam room.

"Doctor, I'm sorry, but I had to put them in the room ahead of a few people because Brutus was making everyone in the waiting room nervous," Tamara said. "And there's something else. They were at Academy Animal Hospital this morning, and apparently they told the receptionist there that they couldn't afford surgery for Brutus. They didn't tell me this until just now—as I was walking them back."

Dr. Hayes thanked Tamara for the information, then headed back into the exam room to ask her new clients some questions. Julie gave Brutus' pertinent history and mentioned that the veterinarians at Academy Animal Hospital were only interested in money. Dr. Hayes asked how much they had quoted.

"Well, they said they needed this and that and that Brutus needed to be anesthetized, plus the aftercare ... I think they wanted $1,200 for everything," Julie said.

Dr. Hayes listened carefully and approached Brutus with her hand in a friendly manner. His eyes grew large and he growled deep in his chest.

"Is he friendly?" Dr. Hayes asked, knowing what the answer would likely turn out to be.

"Usually," answered Julie. "Well, he's pretty nice most of the time."

"Did the other veterinarians this morning have any problems?"

"Well, yes, that's part of the situation. Brutus was scared and the other doctor didn't seem to want to do the surgery. In fact, they had originally told us the price would be $900, then after they dealt with Brutus a little bit, it went up to $1,200 for some reason."

Academy Animal Hospital was Dr. Hayes' top competitor. Though known to be expensive, the 24-hour hospital still lured clients in with low vaccination and exam fees. Any sign of trouble, though, and prices jumped.

Dr. Hayes took the opportunity to discuss Brutus' underlying ear disease and the aftercare involved, plus the possibility of his condition affecting the other ear in the same way.

Julie piped up again: "Doctor, I should tell you—my husband and I only have $200 between us. But we want the best care for Brutus."

Dr. Hayes quickly assessed the situation. She needed new clients, and if she played her cards right, this couple that ostensibly wanted great care for their pet could become great clients as well. She was running behind and didn't have time to make a proper estimate. So she blurted, "We should be able to do this for about $800, plus medications, this afternoon. Tamara will help you go through Zoo Cross Credit. If you're approved, we can proceed." With that, she exited the exam room and headed to her next appointment.

A half-hour later, Tamara caught up with Dr. Hayes in the hall. She told her that Zoo Cross Credit would only approve Julie and John for $400. The couple would pay their own $200 on top of that. Dr. Hayes was conflicted but made a hasty decision. "Oh, all right. Tell them we'll do it for $600."

With adequate muzzling, premedication and a lot of attention to detail, the surgery went well and Brutus was discharged the next morning with an E-collar. That morning was a busy one, and Dr. Hayes didn't end up talking to Julie or John on their way out. Tamara gave them an ear surgery aftercare handout and they paid with Zoo Cross Credit and $200 in cash. Tamara told Julie and John to call and talk to Dr. Hayes if anything came up or if they had any questions.

Unbeknownst to the staff at Mountain View Animal Clinic, things were about to get dicey.