Raising Veterinary Fees
Why raising fees may help solve a lot of challenges for your veterinary practices.
Veterinary medicine is experiencing unprecedented opportunity in 2021. And with the opportunity, the industry is experiencing significant challenges. Rarely are opportunities presented for which a few simple decisions can actually increase the magnitude of the opportunities, if one is willing to take appropriate action that might not be easy or obvious.
The current environment in veterinary medicine is the following:
- There is unprecedented demand for services. Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, practices have been overwhelmed with requests for veterinary services. Emergency hospitals are reporting 6- to 12-hour wait times for patients to get in to be seen. Clinics are reporting a weeks’ long backlog for regular patients to get an appointment to be seen.
- The labor shortage has intensified. Almost every practice would hire at least one veterinarian if they could find one. Most would also hire technicians.
- There has been very strong revenue growth over the past year. Well-run practices have seen revenue growth in excess of 30% year over year, some much higher.
- Practice owners and managers are reporting that their staffs are stressed and worn out from the tremendous load of the past year. This has impacted employee retention and mental health significantly.
- Call volume has escalated tremendously to most clinics. It has become a big challenge to maintain satisfactory customer experiences while managing the requirements of COVID protocols and higher than typical patient flows.
What is the answer to resolving these issues?
Unfortunately, the labor shortage will not be short term and will require years to resolve. However, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the labor shortage, while still providing exemplary care to patients and their owners. Practices must get better at allocating their precious resources, and the most precious of those is skilled labor, veterinarians and technicians. Practices must provide support staff that will do everything except those responsibilities that only a licensed veterinarian is allowed to do. And veterinarians must be open to these changes and become adept at delegating routine tasks and administrative duties to their staff members.
In addition, practices must get better at off-loading tasks that don’t directly drive veterinarian and technician-driven revenue. For example, monetizing phone time is difficult. Triage should be performed by a third party such as AskVet, who have a staff of veterinarians available 24/7 who can answer the myriad of questions that clients call in with seeking answers. Eighty percent of those questions can be resolved remotely. (Editor’s note: Dr. Blach is co-founder of AskVet.) Ten percent will need to see a veterinarian immediately, and 10% will need to see a veterinarian when it’s convenient for them to get in for an appointment. But that’s 80% of call volume that drives no revenue, and eats up a lot of valuable time at every veterinary clinic.
In addition, veterinary practices must implement technology solutions that drive efficiencies. Practice management software should streamline work flow, driving efficiencies, and not wasting valuable veterinarian and technician time.
A less obvious solution to resolving the labor shortage is to invest in leadership and culture development. If there are fewer potential people to provide veterinary services, then every practice should want to be that practice where everybody wants to work. Building a culture where people want to work is the best solution to not having a labor shortage, and in this type of high-demand environment, it’s extremely important to retaining veterinarians as well. People will often take less in pay to work somewhere that they feel valued, where they can make a difference, and be treated with respect both at work and away. Helping your team members build a satisfying lifestyle is of utmost importance to attracting and retaining key team members.
The benefits of raising fees
Another decision that often receives pushback, but which can help alleviate many of the current stressors in a veterinary practice, is to raise fees. Raising fees in a time of unprecedented high demand makes sense, because people are already expressing their desire and hunger for services. In this type of market, few clients, if any, will notice fee increases, and if they do, it is easy to justify fee increases to help attract and retain the team members needed to deliver the services that are obviously in high demand. In this market environment, raising fees is in the best interest of all parties involved, including clients. Practices that under-value or discount their services by even 10% will need to perform 33% more work in order to generate the same amount of gross profit, assuming a gross margin of 40%. So, if a practice is not charging fully for their services, and they are excessively busy, and short-handed, raising fees can provide an immediate solution to multiple pain points.
How does raising fees impact the practice?
Raising fees helps the practices by:
- Maintaining profit margins in an inflationary time period.
- Providing immediate revenue that drops to the bottom line (profit), and which can be used to improve capacity (facilities and people).
- Providing additional revenue with which to compensate staff at higher levels.
- Supporting a strategy to hire more veterinarians and technicians, which will improve the lifestyles of all existing staff members, when properly integrated into the work flow.
- Providing additional capital to attract and retain key staff.
- Supporting acquisition of technology solutions needed to improve efficiencies and the customer experience.
When you raise fees, it is important to discuss the philosophy of fees with your entire team, as you don’t want your team to undercut the practice if a few clients mention that they noticed fees have gone up. Setting appropriate fees touches 100% of transactions, and affects every member of the practice, including clients. Appropriate fees impact hiring, facilities, quality of care, and the lives of every member of the team. A practice that is not profitable is not a good place to work.
Raising fees is one solution that will help resolve many of the stresses currently occurring in most veterinary practices.