Pet Owners Price-Shop

th-1How Do Pet Owners Know What Vet Services Cost?

This is the question we have addressed in the June 2015 issue of Trends Magazine, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. In the article we addressed four questions:

Do clients know the cost of the pet ownership, including the long-term cost of pet care?
What mechanisms are available to give clients a better understanding of costs?
How does price-shopping impact costs and price transparency?
Is there a way for clients to plan for long-term costs?
In our last two posts, we addressed the first and second questions. In this post, we include excerpts to our response to the third issue – how price-shopping impacts costs and price transparency.

Knowing that clients are shopping, many practices will give shoppers a ballpark cost or a range, to reduce the anxiety of the unknown. Practices should, however, avoid the temptation to “low-ball” the estimate or, when clients cringe, to start reducing the services, something Dr. Joel Parker calls “fee sympathy syndrome.”

Veterinary practices need to help shoppers understand what is included in the service they are pricing. For something as basic as spay or neutering, price shoppers may not understand that the price includes a preanesthesia exam, monitoring and a dedicated nurse. It is important to take the time to discuss the service before giving a price, to make sure the client understands that each animal is getting a sterile pack, IV fluid, and preanesthetic blood work. A shopper may get a cheaper price elsewhere only to find later that there is an extra cost for monitoring the patient. One veterinarian recalled a shopper who went to a spay clinic where the pet acquired an infection. The client came back to her veterinarian saying, “I’ve learned my lesson. Don’t use the cheapest alternative!”

Shoppers Search for Less Expensive Products

Shopping is particularly prevalent with regard to veterinary products. Often the shopping gives pet owners an understanding of what things cost, because their veterinarian may not post prices on their website or at the clinic.

Pet owners usually find, of course, that by shopping they can save money. Products are very competitive. So much so that practices can no longer make a 50% markup on pharmacy items, as was done in the ‘50s. In fact, maybe a 6% return would be more realistic today.

Melissa Detrick, BS, Practice Director of Honey Brook Animal Hospital in the Philadelphia area says, “We can’t compete with the pharmacies. If a practice is relying on dispensing for a considerable portion of income, my belief is they need to reevaluate their priorities…. We are not pharmacies. I don’t worry about lost income. We are here to diagnose, treat and prescribe. Dispensing is a convenience for the client and icing on the cake for us.”

That will do it for today.

Let us know something about your experience with price-shopping.

In our next post, we will discuss a way for pet owners to plan for long-term costs,

For an expanded discussion and review of the entire topic, read our article in Trends Magazine.

Carolyn and John

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