Communicate clients' payment options

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Jul 01, 2008

Q: How do we tell clients we can't help them when they can't pay for the care their pet receives?


Lorraine List
"It's almost impossible to deliver that message without angering or humiliating the pet owner," says Lorraine List, CPA, a consultant with Summit Veterinary Advisors in Littleton, Colo. So the best approach is to avoid this situation. But how?

When clients schedule appointments, explain payment is due when you perform the services. Then describe the forms of payment you accept, such as cash, checks, credit cards, and third-party payment plans. Communicating your policy up front will discourage many potential clients looking for free care.

You can also prepare for pet owners who can't pay by establishing a compassionate care fund, recommending pet insurance, and giving each doctor an allowance that he or she can donate to needy clients to help defer the cost of care.

If an established client claims she didn't know your payment policy, consider these solutions:

  • Offer medically sound treatment options and discuss the timing and associated costs.
  • Delay non-emergency or routine services and suggest pet insurance.
  • Use your compassionate care fund if you have one and the client meets your criteria.
  • Offer to charge the client's credit card for a set amount each month and put the agreement in writing.
  • Accept postdated checks that equal the total fee and deposit them on the dates the client indicates in a written agreement.

If you learn an existing client is experiencing a difficult financial situation, you also may consider creating a deferred payment agreement that both parties sign, List says. And as a last resort, you might allow the client to work off the bill by cleaning cages, maintaining the building and property, or providing other services the practice needs.