Should we be charging for nursing clinics?

A recent survey by the VNDG showed that many practices are seemingly giving away their nurses’ time for free

19 March 2020, at 9:00am

The Veterinary Nursing Dermatology Group (VNDG) recently ran a survey investigating the way practices approach charging for nursing clinics. A significant number of nurses, 341, completed the survey and the results present a very interesting picture.

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Utilising veterinary nurses

Ninety percent of practices offer nurse clinics, so we know the vast majority are offering them; however, only 40 percent of those practices charge for their nurse clinics, so more than half of practices are choosing to give their nurse consult time away for free. These practices, whilst not charging for nurse clinics, are, however, charging for nurse services, a high 83 percent of practices in total. But what are these services?

When asking about them in more detail the survey found: 97 percent charge for nail cutting, 90 percent for anal gland expression, 61 percent for blood taking and 51 percent for ear cleaning. So, the majority of practices do value and charge for their nurses’ time and skill, but only a minority charge for nurse “consulting” time.

Practices may have a policy for having the consult free and the services charged for, but the same practices will be charging for vet consult time, with services in addition. This suggests a missed opportunity to charge appropriately for nurse time and skill, which is clearly valued in other areas.

With much discussion in the industry as to the benefits of utilising nurses, by referring on to them work which the veterinary surgeon finds difficult to find time to do, the survey looked to identify if this is actually happening in practice. Encouragingly, 88 percent of practices do refer to their nurse clinics from veterinary consultations. This encouragement continues when looking at specialist consults, with a huge 97 percent of practices offering weight clinics, 94 percent puppy and kitten advice consults, 54 percent geriatric clinics, 48 percent diabetic clinics and 34 percent grooming clinics, suggesting nurses are indeed being utilised for specialist consults. Compared to just 26 percent of practices with vets offering any kind of specialist clinic, we see generally practices are already following the theory to a degree.

Of course, more practices could be offering nurse clinics so there is certainly room for growth, but from a business standpoint, the survey also revealed that even the practices doing so are not making the most of the opportunity. Of the practices offering weight clinics, 82 percent are doing so free of charge as are 88 percent in the case of the puppy and kitten clinics. Perhaps unsurprising given the nature of those services? However, 80 percent of the diabetic clinics and 67 percent of the geriatric clinics are also being offered free of charge; this suggests a real undervaluing of nurses’ advice, and whilst 87 percent of the practices offering grooming clinics do charge, 70 percent are charging below £70.

So how much should we charge?

Of the 40 percent that charge for nurse consultations, the vast majority (59 percent) are charging only between £11 and £20 – so this seems to be the most popular rate. As it is, in fact, for every other nurse service or nurse consult which is being charged for by practices. Without fail this was the top answer every time the survey asked what was charged, regardless of the service. Is £11 to £20 the going rate for a nurse’s time? Based on an average nurse consultation being about 30 minutes, this gives an hourly rate of between £22 and £40 per hour, so not high given the skill of trained nurses and the facilities of the veterinary practice.

Still, whilst the value itself is up for debate, at least the charge in these instances is greater than charging nothing at all. It is still worth noting that the survey showed it can be greater: with 12 people responding saying their practice charges between £21 and £60 for their diabetic clinics, and five to say their practice charges between £81 and £100 for their geriatric clinics. Isolated cases though, which perhaps many would argue is not viable in all practices, but even if not charging at that level, it further highlights the question as to why in the vast majority of instances these nurse services are given away free of charge.

Conclusion, with a VNDG eye to dermatology

We at the VNDG know the real value of the nurse’s role in dermatology and are committed to increasing the number of practices offering nursing consults working alongside their vets in managing dermatology cases.

More are doing so; however, the survey showed the numbers to still be very low at only 12 percent, in an area where we know nurses can improve patient outcomes and the owner’s experience and can assist their vets in really offering a much-enhanced client experience. As nurses’ involvement in dermatology cases increases, perhaps it will demonstrate the value of charging for nurse time in order to generate revenue otherwise missed. A recent survey by the VNDG showed that many practices are seemingly giving away their nurses’ time for free.