A few weeks ago, I published one of my Cone of Shame podcasts on “Intentional Discounting.” I talked with Dr. Tannetje Crocker about when and how she gives discounts to clients in the emergency room, and the episode certainly got peoples’ attention. I ended up getting a bit of criticism over the piece, and now that I’ve reflected on it, I’d like to share what I have learned.
The criticisms I got basically fell into three categories.
1. Drawn Conclusions
The first category was people who read the pull quote on social media, looked at comments from others, and then shared strong feelings about what they assumed was in the podcast.
2. Questions About Fairness
The second category was one that I think is very valid and basically comes down to questions about fairness in discounting for some and not others, and also about how realistic it is for most practices to reduce their prices “as needed.” This was an error on my part in framing the conversation.
I think reducing prices is one tool in the toolbox of practices trying to help pet owners provide care. I personally think it should be an infrequently used tool, and one that is a tiny part of a much larger system of supporting pet owners having financial difficulties. My mistake was not stating those beliefs at the start, rather jumping in with Dr. Crocker to discuss how discounting is done without enough surrounding context. That’s an adjustment I will certainly make in the future whenever talking about reducing prices.
3. Discounting & The Impacts On Staff Salaries
The third category is the one that has bothered me a bit. There were a number of people who felt that discounting services would prevent technicians from being able to earn a higher wage. They pointed out that I have regularly talked about the importance of raising technician salaries and felt that my openness to discounting in certain situations was counterproductive.
While I understand the basic idea that if practices do not collect revenue, they can’t then give said revenue to their technicians. I think the situation is a bit more complicated than that.
Yes, I do believe that low salaries are damaging to our profession retaining and creating positive work experiences for paraprofessionals. However, let me ask you this… would you be more likely to leave a practice because it paid slightly less, or because it had a policy of turning pet owners away if they could not afford services?
There’s an undeniable emotional cost to withholding care based on a pet owner’s inability to pay the bill. That doesn’t release us from our responsibility to create a living wage for our people or to run a healthy business. It does, in my opinion, prohibit us from looking at financial policy in the black and white terms of “pay us or leave.”
The Importance of Balance In Access To Care
When we talk about access to care, we should never forget that success in veterinary medicine is balance. It’s about finding solutions that work for everyone. It’s about weighing our need to generate revenue against our needs to provide care to pets and people.
No, this is not an easy position and most of us get it wrong from time-to-time. But the future of our profession is neither an exercise in maximizing income or in unsustainably sacrificing ourselves and our teams to provide the highest standard of care to all who walk through our doors.
My friends, our lives would be much easier if we simply demanded payment in full up front and turned away anyone who couldn’t afford it. After all, isn’t that what almost every other business does? But this is not our purpose and while our lives would be simpler, they would be poisonous to our souls. Yes, our road is a complicated one. Our challenge must always be to take better care of both pets AND ourselves.