Vets and pet owners struggle with payment plans


By Darla Shelden, Senior City Sentinel reporter

STILLWATER – As the use of cancer treatments, MRIs and other veterinary technologies continues to improve, the availability of customer payment systems to help provide these services is still not widely available, according to a recent Oklahoma State University research.

“Customers want more options,” said Courtney Bir, a Extension of Oklahoma State University specialist professor and assistant in Department of Agricultural Economics.

“We are trying to find a solution to help vets smooth their costs while helping pet owners avoid price shocks,” Bir said.

“Medical care for pets has made great strides, many of which come at a high price,” Bir continued. “The increasing willingness to pay for even expensive medical care for pets reflects the growing importance of pets as family members. Understanding these changing medical needs and providing the best options for clients is important for veterinary clinics.

Dr Cade Wilson, a small animal veterinarian who owns and operates his own practice in Ardmore, agrees with Bir’s findings, based on feedback from dog and cat owners nationwide.

Wilson, an OSU alumnus, has been practicing for about 17 years.

On the business side of operations, the return on investment from new technologies is quite low, making customer retention and attracting new patients vital, according to Wilson.

But even when clinics can afford the technology, Wilson points out that not all clinics have the managerial capacity to set up and collect payments.

“This puts some customers in a difficult situation. We’re trying to help them in terms of cost and what’s needed, ”Wilson said. “Just about everyone uses credit cards now, of course, and we still accept checks. I also worked very hard not to deal with debt collections.

“I’m not sure there is a better way,” he said. “But I know I want to keep these animals healthy and happy with owners who love them, with the best possible service, and all other factors taken 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. American Veterinary Medical Association data reveals that Americans spend a total of about $ 25 billion on dogs and cats each year.

Related businesses have sprung up over the years to seize this potential, especially when it comes to rising healthcare costs, such as third-party payment service providers and pet insurance companies.

One of the nation’s largest pet supply retail chains recently announced that it is partnering with a financial services company to offer online and in-store payment services.

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

“However, this can reduce the already strained profit margins associated with veterinary services, and issues that can arise with third parties can erode the veterinarian-client relationship,” Bir said.

Dr Rosslyn Biggs, clinical assistant professor at OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, said, “Even though there are exceptions, balancing pet medical care needs and the owner’s ability to pay continues to be a challenge for veterinarians at all stages of their careers. Many practices, especially those owned by physicians, struggle to find staff with the expertise to administer payments and collections in urban and rural practices.

“Some of the most difficult situations in practice are where the recommended course of care for an animal does not match the client’s financial resources,” Biggs said.

“Innovative payment mechanisms that give owners options to cover their pet’s medical expenses without squeezing the narrow margins of most veterinary practices are needed,” Biggs added.

For more information visit eeo.okstate.edu.

Dr Cade Wilson, a veterinarian who operates a clinic in Ardmore, works closely with his clients to make sure their pets receive the care they need. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)


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