Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why Cold Calls For Estimates Are About The Worst Way To Find Your Vet.

How many of us make New Years resolutions?

I think a few of us do..I try to do some for the clinic and a few for myself.

I have learned that my personal resolutions need to be fun and within the realm of possibility. For 2012 I decided to wear perfume everyday. For 2013 I decided to throw out every article of clothing that had bad karma. Be it too small, too dark,, too anything. I gave myself free liberty to trash anything that I might look better in in 2014 but looked dumpy and dreary in 2013.

For Jarrettsville Vet I decided to change our protocol about giving estimates over the phone. It is a fairly routine daily occurrence but as our December 2013 staff meeting notes read, "Effective immediately we will no longer provide estimates over the phone."

Here's why.

Most people think that when you call and ask for...well...lets use the most common example.."Hello, can you tell me how much a dog neuter costs?"  That you are comparing apples to apples. Like ordering a book on Amazon versus buying it at the bookstore.

I know that all of us are consumers, and all of us live on a budget (although I tell my husband everyday that that word is a curse word in our house). Many of us have been forced to live with a tighter and tighter purse string as the calender years pass by. But finding medical care for your pet, or for yourself, should not be done with a phone call for an estimate.

Yesterday one of the receptionists asked me "if we had changed the price of the dog neuters?"

You see price changes routinely happen in veterinary medicine as the new year arrives.

"Why?" I replied.

"There is a woman on the phone asking." She answered.

I reiterated the staff meeting notes and after a brief reminder discussion I added, "I'll take the call."

"Hello, it's Dr. Magnifico, how can I help you?"

"Oh! I didn't need the doctor!" she replied sharply. "My daughter's dog needs to be neutered. She lives in Arlington, and they just want a load of money for a neuter. And, you know, she's just graduated, just gotten a small apartment. I told her that our vets in Harford County would be much more reasonable. So I'm calling around. But I have to say even here there is a huge difference in the prices!" She had the whole synopsis out within a few seconds, like a well practiced verse of a popular tune.

She paused to take a breath, and to see if there was still a person at the other end of the line. With a quick, "Hmmm," from me to confirm, she continued.

"In fact I called one clinic, (a very large well advertised behemoth) and they quoted $55 dollars! Can you believe it, $55 dollars? But, for some reason they rubbed me the wrong way." She stopped and waited. "They actually itemize everything. They asked me if I wanted pain medication for her dog after his neuter. Is that optional?" I asked. "Apparently it is?" she finished.

"Yes, I know the clinic you are speaking about." I added, "It might be a good idea to ask for a line item list if you are going to be cold calling for an estimate. You see apples aren't necessarily apples between different veterinary clinics."

"I see. Well, I'm a surgical nurse, so that makes sense." She was slowing her speech and relaxing a bit.

A nurse. Just when I think I have an educated medical colleague I often have to remind the nurses that pets share most of the same anatomy, illness, and disease as we human beings do. With this the interal light bulb usually brightens.

"Well, would you call around and price shop for a hysterectomy?" (Pause and shudder, people likely do, after all, it is a tough economy these days). "If you did would you feel comfortable going to the place that quoted you a fraction of what the others do? And later asked you if you wanted pain medication?"

"Huh? I never thought of it that way?" Her voice brighter and bubblier. "What would you advise my daughter to do?"

"My honest advice is that if your daughter is at a veterinary practice that she knows and trusts, and that knows her dog, then she should inquire about why their price is what it is. Talk to the vet, ask them to explain the price to you. We want our clients to understand what the procedure entails and why it costs what it does. Certainly there are higher cost of living areas and often the prices reflect this, but if there is ever any unfortunate post-operative problem the veterinarian who performed the surgery can assist you. This is likely to be far cheaper and far less stressful if your pet is at your veterinarians office."

"What helpful advice!" she popped. "Thank you so much for your time. I think you will be seeing my pets soon. I live here in Jarrettsville but my pets haven't been to see anyone in awhile."

And so our new resolution stands. If you call us for an estimate a veterinarian will call you back to explain why we cost what we do. The real value in veterinary medicine is a strong healthy relationship and the trust between yourself, your pet, and your vet.

If you have any pet questions you can ask them for free anytime at Or find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice. Or better yet, stop by Jarrettsville Vet and say "hello."


  1. Great post, and so true. I like your idea of not giving estimates over the phone, and advise my friends looking for a new vet to spend the money for a consult appt with a few practices and notice everything from the first phone call and how the receptionist interacts with you, to how well the grounds are maintained....

    1. Hello,

      Thanks for reading!

      What great advice! Interview your vet and pick the one that seems to be the best fit for you.

      The best person to help you take care of your pet is the person who fits best in your team. It takes a village to care for us all.