“When I take my car to the garage, they give me an estimate and that’s what I pay! You can’t get away with charging me £500 above your estimate! I signed for an estimate of £500 and now you want to charge me £1,000, it’s disgraceful, you are all about the money!”
Sound familiar? Many disputes over costs relate back to the estimate given on the consent form the animal owner signed.
An estimate is an educated guess, based on experience, animals are unique, there are many different breeds and they all come in different shapes and sizes with differing clinical histories. They have allergies, they react in different ways to drugs, they respond differently to anaesthetic and treatments, very much like their owners.
So why do animal owners complain about estimates? There are two possible reasons:
1. They confuse an estimate with a quotation. So what’s the difference? A quotation is a fixed price that can’t be changed once accepted by a customer. Usually the quotation specifies exactly what it covers. If a fixed price is given, it will be regarded as binding by law.
2. Veterinary medicine is not an exact science, complications can occur, there are risks with any procedure. The estimate is only a ‘best guess’. However, is this message relayed to the animal owner at the time of signing the consent form? Do they truly understand that an estimate is a price that can change and quite dramatically based on what happens in the procedure and how the animal reacts?
Discuss with the client the range of reasonable treatment options and prognoses, and the best possible estimate, not forgetting the hospitalisation costs, medication, tests and all the pre and post office care. Clients are quick to complain when the overnight care has not been mentioned and especially if it involves moving the animal to another practice. Give the clients the time to consider how the animal can be transported and the associated costs. Will it be coming back in the morning?
Discuss the most common risks involved with the procedure. Ensure the client knows there are many more than you can mention, but you don’t have the time to go through each and every risk. Advise the client if the treatment plan changes due to complications occurring, then the price could easily exceed the estimate. If possible, provide a worst case and best case scenario.
Provide the estimate on the consent form. You can be sure the client will not be happy if the final price exceeds the estimate, so keep them informed if the estimate is likely to be exceeded, gain their consent and record it.
If the animal is insured, it’s the client’s responsibility to check the levels of cover even if a direct claim service has been offered. Keep the client up to date with changes as they will need to keep track of what is being claimed. They are responsible for anything over and above their limit and they always want to be able to make an informed decision to proceed. It may also affect their insurance for the following year.