Business Briefs: The Art of Firing Veterinary Clients

A veterinarian talking to a client with a horse. Firing clients who are not respectful is important for improving your practice.
Respectful clients have their horses caught and haltered, pay on time, and are thoughtful towards their veterinarian. If your clients are not displaying these behaviors, it might be time to discontinue service. Thinkstock

When most practices start in business, attracting clients is the focus. Practice owners likely don’t give much thought as to what constitutes a good client—the kind of client that you wish to have for a lifetime. Good clients are thoughtful, have their horses caught and haltered when you arrive, articulate their concerns clearly, and pay the invoice for services promptly. They are considerate of your boundaries, treat you and your staff with respect, call promptly when their horse has an issue, and don’t waste your time. 

Defining “Difficult” Clients

Every veterinarian has their own pet peeve with clients. Some of the difficult behaviors include disrespect of doctors or staff, entitlement, failure to pay for services, use of fringe providers (e.g. animal psychics), unwillingness to follow a rational treatment plan, waiting to call until after hours because they’ve been hoping the horse would get better, waiting to call until the problem has worsened considerably while they unsuccessfully tried things that were recommended by their trainer or other non-veterinarian, and repeatedly pushing the boundaries of ethical (and legal) behavior. When you groan in dread when you hear that a particular client is on your schedule, perhaps it’s time to consider removing that client from your practice. Some practices review their clients at the end of every year and even allow the staff to choose a few clients to fire that are on their most-difficult-to-deal-with list. These veterinarians report that practice life is noticeably more pleasant after they initiate this annual event. 

Reducing Client Lists

As practices have become busier and associates have become harder to find, providing good service might require reducing the number of clients you are serving. Before winnowing the list, it is helpful to create clear expectations for client behavior, especially when a written Code of Conduct can be shared with them. The best documents outline what they can expect from your practice, and what your practice expects from them. With this document as a backstop, when clients repeatedly fail to meet expectations, it is easier to have the conversation about the need for them to choose a new provider. 

Most state practice acts require that a veterinarian provide continuing care if they are in the middle of a case. However, according to the AVMA, “In keeping with applicable law, a veterinarian shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve, with whom to associate, and the environment in which to provide veterinary medical care.” In most cases, simply notifying the client that you will no longer be available for service is sufficient, though many practices provide a list of other options for veterinary care. 

How to Fire Difficult Clients

Sending a letter to the client is the most common way to discontinue service. When firing clients, the letter should be clear and concise. Some possible language includes:

  • “Due to time and staffing constraints, ABC Equine is reducing availability and will no longer be able to provide emergency or routine service to your horses after September 1st, 2023. Please seek an alternate provider of veterinary care and let us know where you would like your horses’ medical records forwarded.” 
  • “XYZ Equine practice relies upon a relationship of mutual respect and trust in order to provide the best care for our patients. Because these conditions are not present in our relationship with you, we will no longer be able to provide veterinary services to your horses, including emergency care, as of July 1, 2023.”  
  • “Your recent actions have indicated that our practice is no longer a good fit for your veterinary needs. We appreciate your past business but understand your need for a practice that can better meet your expectations. As such, we will no longer provide veterinary services to your horses, including emergency care, as of July 1, 2023.”  

While it can be uncomfortable to take these steps to fire clients, after they are gone from your practice, typically the entire team is relieved. If money is still owed, send a final notice, and then send the account to collections 30 days later. Double down on your policies for payment at the time of service. Interview potential clients or only accept those recommended by current clients. Make sure all new clients receive a copy of your Code of Conduct. Setting expectations is remarkably effective. Enjoy the good clients, and let the others go without regret.

Disclaimer from sponsor: This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other medical providers with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in the article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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