Veterinarians, pet owners struggle with payment plans

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Media contact: Brian Brus | Agricultural communication services | 405-744-6792 | bbrus@okstate.edu

Although veterinary technology continues to improve and enter the mainstream – for example, in oncology treatments and MRIs – the availability of customer payment systems to provide these services is still delayed, according to recent research by Oklahoma State University.

Customers want more options, said Courtney Bir, an Oklahoma State University extension Specialist and Assistant professor at the Institute for Agricultural Economics.

“We’re trying to find a solution to help veterinarians cut costs while helping these pet owners avoid price shocks,” said Bir.

“Pet health care has made great strides, many of which come at high prices. The increasing willingness to pay for the very expensive medical care for pets reflects the increased importance of pets as family members. It is important for veterinary clinics to understand these changing medical needs and offer the best options to customers. ”

Dr. Cade Wilson – a small animal veterinarian who owns and operates his own practice in Ardmore, Oklahoma – agreed with Bir’s findings, based on national feedback from dog and cat owners. Wilson, an OSU alumnus, has been with the practice for about 17 years. On the business side of the operation, the return on investment for new technologies is quite low, making customer retention and patient acquisition critical.

But even if clinics can afford to offer the technology, Wilson is quick to point out that not all clinics have the management capacity to set up and collect payments.

“It puts some customers in a difficult position. We try to help them with the cost and what is necessary, ”said Wilson. “Of course, almost everyone now makes credit cards, and we still accept checks. I also worked very hard not to deal with debt collections.

“I’m just not sure there is a better way. But I know that I want to keep these pets healthy and happy with owners who love them, with the best possible service and taking all other factors into account. ”

With 48.2 million US households with 76.8 million dogs and 31.9 million households with 48.4 million cats, the market is in high demand. Data from the American Veterinary Medical Association shows Americans spend approximately $ 25 billion on dogs and cats annually. Affiliates have outsourced over the years to capitalize on this potential, especially as healthcare costs rise, such as health care costs. B. Third Party Payment Providers and Animal Insurance Companies. One of the country’s largest pet supply retail chains recently announced that it is partnering with a financial services company to provide online and in-store payment services.

Bir’s research found that it is difficult for pet customers to follow common third-party practice when managing payment plans. The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

“However, this can reduce the already tight profit margins associated with veterinary services, and issues that may arise with third parties can undermine the vet-customer relationship,” she said.

Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, a clinical assistant professor at OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said that while there are exceptions, the balance between pet health care needs and owner solvency poses a challenge for veterinarians at every stage of their careers. Many practices, especially those owned by doctors, are faced with the challenge of finding staff who have the expertise to manage payments and collections in both urban and rural practices.

“Some of the most difficult real-world situations are where the recommended care for an animal is inconsistent with the client’s financial resources,” said Biggs.

Her conclusion was in line with Wilson’s own experience: “Innovative payment mechanisms are needed that allow owners to cover the medical expenses of their pet without reducing the tight margins of most veterinary practices.”