Fees: It's all in the presentation

Fees: It's all in the presentation

Turn common sense on its head: Present your fee schedule to clients—personally
Apr 01, 2012

I find it amazing how far we'll go go to avoid anything personally distasteful. Should a restaurant server bring me a dinner with broccoli on the plate, you can bet the farm that it will go back to the kitchen as unacceptable. I don't even want the same plate once the broccoli has been there. I believe that every menu should have a caution statement if broccoli is going to be involved.

Fees, in any veterinary hospital, present the same kind of problems to most practitioners. We hate them! We want to serve our patients without the least mention of fees. I went through four years of veterinary curriculum without hearing the word "fees." Students never knew who handled the financial side of the university veterinary clinic. It was a well-guarded academic secret.

I guess I was lucky in that I had worked a few summers in a local clinic and occasionally saw what needed to be paid for. Of course, at that time an office visit was only $5 and a case of 24 cans of veterinarian-recommended food was $8. Did clients complain about those fees? You betcha! Mostly because a good cup of coffee was still a nickel and a carton (10 packs) of cigarettes was $2.

Now that we've established that I'm old, let me share some of my wisdom that came with age: Fees don't mean a thing unless your client accepts them.

Hold your head up high

Even today, in the age of untold numbers of psychological studies on numbers and fees, the No. 1 reason a veterinarian charges X dollars for Y procedure is that he or she just continued the same fees of the previous owner. This is certainly a case of "dumb and dumber." The seller was flying by the seat of his/her pants, and the buyer swallowed that nonsense.

Today's fees are derived from specific overhead costs modified by average family income, local area growth rates, per capita pet spending and discretionary income. Local demographics determine whether high-quality medical procedures will be accepted.

Consulting in London years ago, I asked for the surgical fee schedule: 300 pounds, the equivalent of $850 today.

"For what procedure?" I asked.

The veterinarian replied that he wouldn't even start a surgery for less. That attitude worked for him then and still does today with all of the economic woes the UK is going through.

About the same time, an Arizona veterinarian called to ask if I thought it would be all right to charge $50 for injections. I asked him what he charged now, and he replied $45. He had been charging that same $45 for 10 years and thought it was about time for an increase.

I agreed, despite the fact that the average practice was charging $12 to $15 at the time. If his clients thought it was worth $45, a meager $5 increase after 10 years was going to be perfectly agreeable.

Attitude. That's what it's about. Either your services are worth paying well for—or they're not.