11. 05. 21
Whether fins, fur, or feathers, a record 70% of American households now own a pet.1 This is just one factor of several contributing to an overwhelmed veterinary industry. While human patients might have deferred elective procedures and avoided primary care at various points since 2020, there has been no such slowdown in medical care for their beloved pets. In fact, not only have typical levels of veterinarian care continued, but veterinary services are in unprecedented demand. Veterinary practices and animal hospitals have taken this surge as an opportunity to show their agility, with many adopting new processes and services including curbside care and telemedicine. As staffing shortages associated with high employee turnover, productivity challenges, and scheduling pressures weigh on veterinary practices, the time is ripe to address the transactional side of veterinary care. By adopting digital solutions to simplify payments for clients and streamline operations for staff, offices can save stretched-thin time and support their businesses’ relevancy and revenue for the long term.
As a result of spending more time at home due to employers’ flexible work-from-home policies, pet owners across the country have increased their attention on their animals’ health and well-being. Many veterinary clients have sought care for their pets that they might not have otherwise if faced with the competing priorities of pre-pandemic schedules. In addition to this increase in appointments for existing patients, veterinary practices have also been inundated with appointment requests for new pets. Pets provide the companionship that so many have sought during these uncertain times, and pet adoption has been a popular and helpful coping mechanism for many.
As non-emergency clinics’ schedules fill up multiple weeks in advance, emergency clinics have seen a significant increase in non-emergency visits. Clients with even slightly urgent pet health issues must seek help outside of their routine clinic, and emergency vet clinics are often their next and only option. This cascade effect has certainly been the case for Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine, a 24-hour veterinary emergency and referral hospital located in Connecticut. According to Accounts Payable Manager Lynn Acquarulo, “The regular veterinarians are booked a few weeks out. So, we see things that aren’t true emergencies, like an ear infection. We get all of the overflow of people who can’t get appointments with their regular vets—they come to the emergency room.”
In addition to, or perhaps in connection with, schedule challenges, the veterinary sector is facing staffing shortages and burnout. With fewer hands to help lighten the load, veterinary practices can instead turn to office technology for help filling in staff gaps and save time by streamlining workflows and replacing manual tasks with automation.
This whitepaper explores 4 ways that veterinary practices can sustain and strengthen their business model for the future using office and payment technology.
In the past, many veterinary offices have not had a pressing need to accept online payments, because the majority of client payments were completed inside the office at the time of care. However, as many care scenarios now happen outside of an office’s four walls, having an online payment link equips veterinary practices with a new lineup of contactless payment options instead of relying on phoned-in payments that require staff attention.
Curbside care was, for many vets, intended to be a temporary solution during the height of COVID-19 to allow them to continue seeing patients without prolonged contact with their owners. Because of ongoing safety concerns and also many clients’ satisfaction—even preference for—this alternative care system, it is now common for vet offices to offer an option of curbside care in addition to traditional appointments with the owner accompanying their pets inside. In this new normal, veterinary practices must ensure that their supporting administrative and payment processes, which might have been “good enough” for a short-term situation, can stand the test of time and offer the flexibility that they need.
Beyond the curbside model, many large-animal veterinarians travel to their patients to provide on-site services. With the methods outlined below, clients can make fast and secure payments, regardless of location, with no extra card processing equipment required.
With a secure payment software system, animal clinics can store a client’s payment information in a digital, encrypted format for future charges with a pre-authorized signature. This payment technology not only gives veterinary practices peace of mind that they will receive the payment they are owed, but it reduces checkout time from minutes to seconds. The option for clients to avoid producing a payment method streamlines checkout and is especially beneficial when clients have an anxious, impatient, or healing pet in tow.
The ability to charge a card on file for a pre-authorized amount can also help to ease emotional or uncomfortable interactions when faced with an undesired care outcome or devastating loss of a pet, allowing staff to focus on words of comfort rather than the transactional details.
Veterinary practices still relying on paper receipts and labor-intensive filing systems to keep record of client payments will find that a digital record system saves time and hassle. Before implementing their new payment platform, the office staff of Central Hospital of Veterinary Medicine spent a significant amount of their limited time tracking down payment receipts and matching them to clients and patients. Describing their former refund process, Acquarulo states, “We process hundreds of transactions daily, and searching for a receipt was cumbersome. We would have to go back and investigate who a payment belonged to.”
Instead, digital records put all the needed information right at the practice staff’s fingertips in a searchable format and in downloadable reports. “On the reports, clients’ names print out with the transactions, which makes it so much easier for us to track who each payment belongs to,” says Acquarulo.
For some veterinary clinics, refunds are a part of their everyday workflows. At Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine, Acquarulo explains, “We require a deposit when patients are admitted to the hospital, and a lot of times the bill doesn’t come to that amount, so we issue refunds.” Before their new technology, their process was to call the client and ask for their credit card information to issue the refund. Now, Lynn can refund a transaction by simply clicking a button in the system. “We don’t have to ask the client for their card number or call, which is especially helpful if the pet has passed,” Acquarulo explains. “One click has made life much, much easier.”
Pet owners are also consumers, and in today’s consumer market, there is no shortage of payment methods to make a purchase possible. By expanding payment plan offerings, practices can make treatments possible that clients would otherwise be unable to access. While this is good for business, it’s also a practical way to offer compassionate care to pets and their owners. Veterinary practices care about their patients’ health as much as their owners do, and by easing the cost barrier, practices can prevent clients from having to face difficult decisions about their pet’s well-being. According to Amanda Donnelly, DVM, MBA, veterinary business consultant, author, and speaker, “Having multiple payment options available for your clients to consider is the ideal” (Fitzsimmons, 2020).
Payment technology that includes secure card-on-file capabilities gives veterinary practices the ability to offer interest-free payment plans to their established clients—essentially breaking larger amounts owed into smaller, more affordable installments. Veterinary practices define the parameters of their own payment program, such as a minimum balance due to be eligible or a timeframe within which the balance must be paid off. When discussing the importance of a treatment path and the financial details, being able to offer a payment plan option can be a huge relief for pet owners. Extending this option is another way that practices can show compassion. Clients will pay a certain amount upfront, at the discretion of the office, and the remaining installment payments will be drafted automatically according to an agreed-upon schedule.
Seeking veterinary care can be an anxiety-inducing experience for pet owners who fear they will have to make a choice between the best care for their companion and making ends meet. Knowing that practices offer payment plans will ease their concerns and foster loyalty.
Rectangle Health has been providing healthcare payment technology to veterinary practices for nearly 30 years. Our Practice Management Bridge® platform offers all-encompassing payment technology, including online payments, Text to Pay, flexible payment plans, and digital office efficiency tools, such as transaction reporting and refunding, that help ease administrative burden for staff and support streamlined payment processes.
With our many years of experience, Rectangle Health has smooth and efficient implementation down to an art and knows how to work effectively with veterinary practices of all specialties and sizes. “It was very professional and a very smooth transition,” says Acquarulo. “The implementation specialist was my main contact, and she just got everything I needed done. We were up and running within a couple of days.