Debt – the thing every practice dreads dealing with. We all know veterinary care can be expensive, and not all clients are good at settling their bills promptly. So how can we try and minimize this burden to our practices?
Prevention is better than cure.
Make sure that your practice is set up to make it as hard as possible for someone to forget (or “forget”!) to pay their bill when leaving. Diligent veterinarians and attentive receptionists can make a real difference in keeping your debt under control. Use your social media, noticeboards, and other client communications to explain that payment is expected at the time of treatment
We all know veterinary care can be expensive, and not all clients are good at settling their bills promptly.
Some outstanding debt is due to genuine forgetfulness. Clients are more likely to be happy to settle if they are notified of their outstanding balance promptly. Rather than waiting until the end of the month, try and get a quick phone call or invoice via email done within a week of the visit.
Rather than being confrontational if someone cannot pay their debt, try to engage constructively. If they cannot clear their balance today, ask them how much they can pay – half is often a good starting point. Then ask when they could next make a payment, and try and agree on how much in advance.
Signpost to alternatives
Several different credit agencies will offer loans to help cover vet bills. Some of these will take a small cut of your profits, but it allows the burden of collection to be shifted off the clinic.
Get the professionals
Veterinary practices are not collection agencies and are not set up to chase down bad debtors. If your in-house efforts have failed, don’t be afraid to call in a professional debt collector to make sure you at least get some of your money back. Sometimes the mention of this will be enough to prompt payment from a difficult client
Mounting debt can drown even a great practice. Prevention is best, but engagement is often successful. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to hand it over to someone who deals with debt professionally.
Dr Ruth Cawston
Ruth graduated from Cambridge in 2014 and has worked as a small animal GP vet ever since. She is particularly interested in internal medicine, as it combines her love of problem-solving and her somewhat geeky love of knowledge, and has completed her certificate in Small Animal Medicine. She loves animals of all species but is particularly fond of cats.