Peak Performance: Tips You Can Use
Volume 7,  Issue 11
November 2015
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The High Price of a Free Exam
A thorough physical examination performed by a veterinarian is the key to long, healthy lives for pets. The examination can provide early detection of problems, which allows the veterinarian to intervene sooner to correct or slow the progress of serious health problems. 
While we know this information, it is remarkable to see that when there is a drop in the number of patient visits or the appointment book has empty slots, the first reaction is often to promote free or discounted examinations.
Please.... don't give away the examination. Here's why:
The comprehensive physical examination performed by the veterinarian is the single most important service a veterinary practice provides. The examination is not something that can be replicated through non-veterinarians, such as an on-line pharmacy, Dr. Google, or your local Walgreens or CVS store.  In addition, a comprehensive examination is rarely available at the "shoot and scoot" parking lot "shot" clinics. 

Unfortunately, we as a profession have devalued the most important service we offer. We give the examination away as if the time, knowledge and expertise that go into performing it have no value. We place more focus, attention and value on the vaccinations - which are actually the primary commodity of the veterinary practice.  Every practice provides vaccines and it is hard for a client to perceive the difference between your Rabies vaccine and that of your competitors.  Your exam, on the other hand, may be vastly different and it is through this exam that you can truly differentiate your practice from those around you. 

If you must use discounting as a strategy, don't discount your services, discount your products.  For example, charge full price for the exam, but discount the price of the vaccine(s) instead. Yes, there are tangible costs associated with vaccinations. You can actually see what the vaccine, needle, syringe, etc., cost when you look at a vendor invoice. There are also overhead costs involved in administering the vaccine. That is why you are reluctant to discount - because you know it isn't good for the bottom line because you can easily see your profit margin shrinking when products are discounted!  If you are reluctant to discount your vaccines, though, then why aren't you also reluctant to discount your examination?

It costs a lot of money to provide a comprehensive physical exam.  The facility, the staff, the doctor and the materials used are all part of the real cost of providing this service.  The only difference is that you don't see these costs on your vendor invoices each month. The biggest cost you will face, however, is the loss of perceived value from your clients when you discount your examination fees!

The best advice is to charge for the examination every time. Don't diminish the value by giving your time, knowledge, and expertise away for free. You worked hard for that degree!
Many years ago, vaccination protocols changed and as a result, the number of examinations declined.  This was because veterinarians focused only on when the next "shot was due" rather than focusing on the importance of the examination. When you complete a preventive health exam, do you remind the client when the next vaccinations are due, or when the next examination is due?  This is a subtle, but important difference.  Your doctors and your staff should emphasize the importance of the annual or semiannual exam more than the vaccinations.  In some cases, vaccines will be needed at the time of the exam and in some cases, they will not, but the emphasis should be on the exam.  You should also send reminders for preventive health exams, just as you send reminders for vaccines and other services! 

Your attitude towards exams will be reflected by your staff as well as your clients.  When a staff member has a pet that needs an exam, what do you provide?  We hope you are doing a comprehensive exam for every staff pet,  not just a "quick exam in the back" with shots.  By doing so, you will be showing the staff that you truly believe that a thorough exam is an important part of preventive healthcare.  If your staff understands the value, it will be easier for them to communicate this value to your clients.

Work with your team to increase the perceived value of the examination. Communicate with clients (and employees) what you are doing and why. As you listen to the heart and lungs, explain what you are listening for and what you hear. Offer to let the client listen. Use the otoscope to examine the pet's ears, explain what you are looking for and what you are finding. When looking at the pet's eyes, use the ophthalmoscope and discuss your findings and what you are eliminating as potential health problems. When you are palpating the pet's abdomen or checking its hips and joints, explain what you are doing. Compliment the client on the care they are providing to their pet. Provide a written report card of the examination findings to enable the client to refer back to what was done and share the information with their family. All of these steps create added value to the physical exam.

Another way to add value to the examination is by recognizing and enhancing the experience, the moments with the client. Ask yourself, "do we give our clients the experience that they desire, or do we give them a reason to go somewhere else? "  Think about the client experience at your hospital. This experience starts with the pet owner looking for your phone number, calling the hospital to get information on pricing and setting up the appointment. The client experience carries through to the hospital's location, parking lot, entryway, cleanliness and smell, as well as how they are greeted by client service representatives. The visit flows through being escorted to the examination room, to the knowledge, experience and communication by the veterinary technician and the veterinarian. The experience of that visit extends to the checkout process and the follow up care or call. Every single moment the client spends interacting with your hospital should resonate positively with them.

As a profession, we need to elevate the significance of the routine examination performed by the veterinarian. The profession needs to be on the same page and speak the same message. Many pet owners and even practice employees don't understand the importance of the examination. This lack of understanding is caused by our inconsistent messages and actions. These messages and actions can be reversed to the benefit of the veterinary profession. Where does it start? Charge for the examination. Please, don't give it away.