What can we learn from other professions?

            The other day a staff member had some tests done to see if she needed surgery.  She had not heard from the surgeon for a few days so she called to get the results.  She was told the doctor would like to go over them in person, so she was wondering how soon she could get in.  She was told the next opening was in 5 weeks and she could see the doctor then. 

            I could not in my wildest dreams imagine withholding test results from an owner for 5 weeks.  I am speaking to that owner by phone that day, sometimes as late as 11pm if it is a busy one.  Sometimes the phone conversations take 30 seconds; others end up being an hour.  Am I being compensated more for the longer phone call, absolutely not?  As doctors we do not charge for time spent on the phone.  So some on the human side have bypassed this no fee step and strictly communicate during an appointment; when it is acceptable to charge for time involved.

            Now lawyers are happy to converse on the phone, they have the benefit of billing.  This has become an efficient way of charging for services rendered.  A lawyer can work a long day well into the evening and know that those extra hours put in will converse to direct compensation.  As I was listening to my coworker being told to put her anxiety on hold for 5 weeks I had just gotten off the phone from a half an hour conversation with someone who was not a client of our hospital but was looking to discuss his pet with a doctor.  We had a good conversation and I think I gave him some new insight.  Will he come see me in the future?  Maybe, but I have done phone consultations before where I never end up seeing the pet and there is no direct compensation.  As veterinarians we are driven to take care of the pet and educate the owner.  I know specialists that are happy to take calls from across the country or even the world for someone who had a particular question about his pet that applies to the doctor’s discipline.  It is unlikely that there will be any financial reward, but we are always happy to share in ideas. 

            It was easy to give away free advice on the phone when you could significantly increase the price of pharmaceuticals.  For that fact, it was easy to charge less for an office call or neuter procedure.  But times have changed and as the mark-ups to the pharmaceuticals have had to go down we have adjusted by charging more accordingly for our exams and time in surgery.  But the day may come when a veterinary practice will not be able to compete with retailers both online and around the corner and not sell drugs at all.  So how do we adjust, how do we make up for that huge loss of revenue?  Do we take notes from our medical doctor friends and only communicate in person and always charge for it, no matter the inconvenience and stress it gives to clients?  Do we borrow from our lawyer buddies and bill for our time on the phone?

            I say no, the mere thought of doing that makes me realize why I did not join either of those professions.  But what do we as veterinarians do collectively to continue to provide fair compensation to ourselves yet uphold the high standards of care that is unmatched by any other profession?


  • You ask a tough question! The veterinarians that I know seem to care more about practicing good medicine and genuinely helping people and pets rather than maximizing profits. It's this altruistic nature that separates veterinarians as a whole from many other professions.

    I am not a veterinarian, so it's easier for me to comment here. It seems like the solution is to find a business model that allows veterinarians to increase the amount of time they spend talking with clients about the health of an animal and decrease the amount of time spent on talking to the client about the financial end of the business like "how much will this cost?" (although both must be addressed).

    Perhaps there is a profession or industry out there with this issue already addressed. Maybe they would break those two conversations out into job descriptions for two separate people. For example, in my previous life as a graphic designer at an ad agency, I was in charge of practicing good design for my clients, but I would never directly speak with a client about billing, we had account managers for that. Okay, I won't pretend to have any real answers here, but the person who solves this problem will make a lot of veterinarians happy!

    Phil_Barnes, 3 years ago | Flag

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