Monday, August 18, 2014

A Very Personal Business:

If your pet has ever needed surgery or emergency care, chances are you felt a knot in your stomach when you saw the vet bill.  An article on the Veterinary Information Network web site noted that between 2000 and 2013, prices for veterinary services increased 91%.  As veterinary treatment becomes more sophisticated, this trend will continue.   Now that 83% of owners consider their pets to be members of the family, they expect a level of care commensurate with that perception.  The problem is, the cost of that care is often out of reach.

Tony and Suzanne with their four-legged family members:
Sam the Schnauzer and Chase the Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross

Suzanne Cannon knows how hard it is to choose between finances and your pet’s health.  Several years ago, her dog developed a case of pancreatitis, requiring $4,000 of emergency treatment.  Despite having pet insurance, Cannon, who was then going through a divorce, still had to pay upfront and then wait for reimbursement.  Third-party financing wasn’t an option due to her personal circumstances.  “The only thing I could do was put the entire bill on a credit card.  I maxed it out, and the interest rate was nearly 21%.  I could have made monthly payments, but outside of being approved for a loan, that wasn’t an option.”

Cannon now hopes she can give more options to other pet owners.  Along with her partner, Tony Ferraro, she helped launch in 2014.  Ferraro owns Electronic Billing & Customer Support, a Timonium-based electronic payment processing firm he founded 27 years ago.  Leveraging the company’s expertise in payments and collections, Ferraro and Cannon set out to fill a gap in the veterinary industry.  Their business model allows pet owners to spread veterinary costs over time by making interest-free installment payments, while enabling vets to reliably collect those payments using Electronic Billing’s secure and sophisticated payment processing infrastructure. 

Cannon says paying for vet care is a hot topic for vets and their clients – for different reasons.  Pet owners, who find vet costs overwhelming at times, are strongly in favor of more payment options.  Vets, on the other hand, hesitate to offer payments, with good reason.  “Vets absolutely want to provide the best care for their patients.  I haven’t talked to a single vet who isn’t sensitive to the issue of cost vs. care,” says Cannon.  “But they also run a business and need to protect themselves.  They don’t want to get burned by clients who don’t pay, and they don’t want the hassle of billing.  It can be an administrative nightmare.”

Cannon and Ferraro created a system that would address the needs and concerns of both parties.  The benefit to the pet owner -- having extra time to pay an expensive bill -- reduces stress and means their pet gets treatment without cost getting in the way.  For the veterinarian, worries about getting paid are reduced because sets up automatic drafts from the client’s checking, savings or credit card account. The vet doesn’t have to invoice, track payments, or make uncomfortable collection calls. also offers a credit assessment tool to help veterinary practices determine the risk involved in offering a payment plan.  The web-based application allows the vet to enter basic client data, then instantly returns a credit grade along with recommendations for a down payment and length of plan.  According to Ferraro, “we designed the system so it executes a ‘soft’ credit pull, meaning it won’t show on the client’s credit report or affect their credit score.” won’t deny a payment plan to a client based on credit grade.  “The vet decides whether to offer a payment plan, not us,” says Ferraro.  “If a trustworthy client has fallen on hard times, and the vet wants to offer a payment plan, we won’t turn them down.  Our credit scoring system is a guideline so the vet can make an informed decision.  We won’t rule out someone who really needs a plan if the vet wants to take on that risk.”’s payment plans are offered by several veterinary clinics, including the Pet+ER, Frederick Road Veterinary Hospital, and Perry Hall Animal Hospital. Valley Veterinary Hospital in Middletown and Metropolitan Emergency Animal Clinic in Rockville, MD, offer the plans, too. 

According to Pet+ER’s Client Services Manager Mellissa Dodson, client feedback about the program has been very positive.  At Frederick Road Veterinary Hospital, owned by Drs. Dan and Lisa Zakai, clients are grateful to have a payment option that fits their budget.  “We realize that not everyone who loves their animal qualifies for a credit card, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t pay,” says Dr. Lisa Zakai.  “This option allows us to be more flexible.”

For Cannon and Ferraro, who have a dog and a horse, what’s most rewarding is knowing their efforts have already made a difference.  “Our first success story came from a woman whose 5 year old dog needed emergency surgery,” shares Cannon.  “She was turned away by one vet because she didn’t qualify for financing.  She went to Frederick Road Vet, where they’d just implemented our program. They set her up on a 3 month payment plan.  Not only was her dog’s life saved, she paid off her balance early.  I have a picture of Peggy and her dog, Daisy, in my office.  It reminds me every day why we started this.  This is much more than a business  – it’s very personal to me.” 

Suzanne Cannon is Director of Marketing and Business Development for
For more information about veterinary payment plans, visit on the web or call 800-766-1918 between 10 am and 6 pm Monday – Friday.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Another reason to secure your web site

Google to reward web sites if they use the HTTPS encryption connection.

Aside from the security issue of having your web site be HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) now you want to convert from the old HTTP so you make sure your site gets top billing with Google.

HTTPS is a communication protocol for secure communication over a network especially on the internet. It works in conjunction with SSL/TLS. The main reason you want to use HTTPS is to prevent wiretapping and man in the middle attacks. It provides bi-directional encryption between you and the server where the web site resides. Which protects against eavesdropping and tampering with the communications going back and forth.

Read more on HTTPS here.

We all know that security is the number one issue facing businesses that operate on the web. However, many businesses, especially new ones do not take the time to make sure their web developer incorporates HTTPS.

If you really care about your customers you should incorporate HTTPS. The last thing you need is for someone to hack your web site and extract sensitive information. However, now you want to make the change so you keep getting traffic to your site.

Read the entire story from PC Magazine here

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Managing Veterinary Costs: Avoiding Economic Euthanasia

According to a recent article published by USA Today (June 2014), the number of pets euthanized for economic reasons is on the rise.  As the cost of veterinary treatment has increased -- primarily due to significant advances in veterinary medicine -- the ability of pet owners to pay for veterinary care has declined.

Pet Owners Fear Cost of Treatment
USA Today spoke to both veterinarians and animal shelter workers who say that the incidence of "economic euthanasia" has increased dramatically in recent years.  At one veterinary clinic in Fredericksburg, VA, the practice owner noted that two-thirds of the pets put to sleep each week are euthanized because their owners can't afford to care for them.  In one case, a dog had to be euthanized due to a salmonella infection, because his owners waited over a week to bring him to the vet.  The reason for the delay?  Fear of the cost of treatment.

Despite Increased Spending on Pets Overall, Veterinary Costs Higher Than Expected
According to the American Pet Products Association and the Humane Society of the United States, there are 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats in the United States.  Their owners spent approximately $55 billion on these pets in 2013, an increase of $2 billion dollars since 2012.  Despite the willingness to spend on our pets, who in many cases are considered family members, many of us can no longer afford the significant upfront cost of veterinary care -- particularly if it involves emergency or surgical treatment.  Even routine and preventive care has become costly.  In 2011, the Bayer/Brakke Veterinary Care Usage Study found that 53% of respondents agreed with the statement, "the cost of a routine vet visit is usually much higher than I expect."

Vet Costs a Hot Topic, Even on Primetime TV
The issue of high veterinary costs is a prevalent topic these days, so much so that it has even made its way into television prime time.  On a recent episode of FX's "Married," starring Judy Greer and Nat Faxon, the plot centered around a $5,000 vet bill -- and how to pay it.  While 76% of pet owners report that they would spend "any amount necessary" to keep their pet alive, in reality most owners aren't prepared to pay for an emergency or catastrophic illness, and are devastated -- emotionally and financially -- when hit with a vet bill for thousands of dollars.  

Pet Health Care vs. Finances: Finding a Balance
Obviously the question on the minds of both pet owners and veterinarians is "how can veterinary treatment be made more affordable?"  There is a glaring gap between the level of care that owners want for their pet, and their ability to pay for that care.  From the veterinarian's point of view, it is frustrating that providing optimal care for every pet is often hampered due to the cost barrier.

There are actually several ways to address the issue of managing veterinary costs, in order to achieve a more comfortable balance between the desired level of care and pet owner finances.  The best solution is likely to be a combined strategy, in which pet owners avail themselves of all available means for cost containment.  Here are some suggestions.

Strategies for Managing Veterinary Costs

Third-party Payment Plans
When you visit your veterinary hospital, ask about the availability of third-party payment plans -- and not just financing plans, but installment payment plans in which the cost of an expensive procedure can be spread out over time.  Installment payment plans can be a better choice if you don't want a credit inquiry showing on your credit report, and you will also avoid being hit with a high interest rate if you miss a payment, or can't pay off your balance in the specified time frame.
Pet Insurance 
Consider buying pet insurance.  There are many plans available, and a good place to start is by asking your veterinarian for some recommendations.  You should compare plans, and consider what a policy covers.  You should also assess the affordability of the deductible and premium; the process for submitting claims; and the length of time for reimbursement.  You should also note any exclusions for preexisting conditions or specific illnesses that might not be covered. 

An excellent resource for evaluating, comparing and educating yourself about types of coverage and various plans is available at Pet Insurance UniversityDo not purchase a policy before you have visited this web site!

Wellness/Preventive Care Plans
Enroll your pet in an annual wellness plan if your vet offers one. Also known as "preventive care plans," these are typically one-year contracts that cover the cost of routine preventive care.  Plans are priced differently depending on the stage of your pet's life, or the level of services provided.  The cost of the plan can be paid in full, or in some cases, in monthly installments, making it easier to work veterinary expenses into a household budget.

Financial Assistance through Charitable Organizations
Another avenue to explore is charitable organizations dedicated to veterinary financial assistance.  Some groups provide funds for owners of specific breeds, others may offer help for particular diseases, such as cancer or cardiovascular disorders.  Still others serve pet owners in certain geographic areas.  A comprehensive list of organizations that provide veterinary financial assistance can be found on the web site  Identifying which organization you might want to use, before you need it, can help give you peace of mind.

Coupons, Discounts, Promotions
Keeping up with coupons or special offers for discounts at your vet is another way to reduce costs.  Including your veterinarian's Facebook page in your newsfeed is a good way to stay informed about marketing promotions that may benefit your bank account.  Some vets write newsletters, so subscribe if you can, and watch the mail for promotional offers that come from animal health care companies.  You may be able to redeem a coupon for heartworm medication or flea and tick preventative, among other things.

It is reasonable to expect that the cost of pet health care will continue to rise, due to continuing advances in diagnostic and therapeutic options.  With that in mind, pet owners will benefit from developing a comprehensive financial plan for managing veterinary costs.  By combining available resources (pet insurance, wellness plans, charitable funds, payment plans) instead of taking a singular approach, fewer pet owners will have to face the gut-wrenching dilemma of choosing between their pet's life and their pocketbook.  

Information you can use, brought to you by #petsarefamilytoo!

USA Today, "Euthanizing pets increasing as vet costs rise,", June 2014
MSN Money, "Is pet insurance worth the cost?", June 2014
VeTeam Advisor supplement, "The Cost of Pet Health Care," J. Schori, VMD, ed. May/June 2013
JAVMAnews, "Banking on wellness:  Practices try out monthly payment plans to promote preventive care,", May 2014
VIN News Service, "Veterinary nonprofits: unfair competitors or worthy charities?,"  April 2014
VIN News Service, "Help exists for those struggling to pay veterinary bills,", May 2014
Pet Insurance University,