4 crucial questions to create a healthy wellness plan
Wellness plans, paid for all at once or in monthly payments, could be a real pet owner pleaser at your veterinary practice. But ask yourself these four questions first.
You know pets need to come into the veterinary hospital even when they're not laid up in bed. Wellness plans are one way to get there. (Shutterstock.com)
Wellness plans are a viable source of income for veterinary hospitals. Think of the expanding nature of opportunities for veterinary care they offer, providing clients with products and services at a more manageable expense. But, are wellness plans right for every practice, every client, every time? Let's answer four questions first:
1. Does my practice need wellness plans?
Profitability and success with wellness plans is all in the execution. First, are your current and future clients in the right marketing demographic for a program like this? Wellness plans work best with a clientele that wants affordably monthly payments vs. come-in-whenever appointments on a client's whim with a potentially big and unexpected diagnostic and physical-exam fee at that moment.
You know your clients best. Research and survey current clients (read more about that here). Review your financials on wellness care. Check client compliance in scheduling doctor-recommended procedures or routine wellness and lab work. Are people coming back to you for these services in a timely manner-or going to one-time shot clinics or wellness-plan-using competitors?
Before diving into wellness plans, make sure you already have good reminder and follow-up procedures in place.
Before diving into wellness plans, make sure you already have good reminder and follow-up procedures in place. (Not sure? Read “Reimagine your veterinary practice's reminders” and “Learn to love electronic veterinary reminders.”) Wellness plans are intended to increase compliance and clients' annual expenditures by providing affordable monthly payments versus client-driven visits (whenever they think they've got a problem or feel like coming in). If preventive-care compliance isn't a huge issue in your practice, why rock the boat by adding these plans? Just beef up your already existing procedures for reminders.
2. Will wellness plans be profitable for my practice?
It's a numbers game, as many things are, when introducing a program like this. How much will these services cost your clients up front? Perception of value is essential when marketing these plans and discussing the potential savings, but on the administrative side don't forget to make sure your discounting is not affecting your monthly profit margins.
An important factor to look at is your hospital's monthly financial sustainability. Wellness plan adoption often is slow and gradual, with proof it's working measured at year's end, not month's end. For hospitals with tighter budgets, that slow burn could initially hurt your monthly profitability. Practices who skip third-party help for their wellness plans often don't realize the amount of work, time and dedication required to implement and maintain them. Wellness plans need to be tracked and managed, and monthly payments, if you use them, need to be collected.
Start a wellness plan.
Staffing could increase by 15 percent.
That could have meant $1,750 to $3,500 more per month for my practice.
Will you hire a third party to help manage?
Plan that cost into your profit margins.
My experience is, staffing hours increase by roughly 15 percent. That may require hiring additional support staff to handle the workload, increasing payroll cost by as much as $1,750 to $3,500 a month for one to two new employees (or more hours for existing part-timers). Many hospitals aren't fully prepared to take on that initial expense (which is why some hospitals give up a little profit for the outside, third-party management of their preventive-care plans).
Be prepared to see an increase in your accounts receivables and set up strict policies and procedures for collections. If you elect to use a third party for a wellness plan, plan in advance for those costs, as they'll cut into your profit margins.
3. Will wellness plans frustrate my clients?
You know all the standard anger and frustration some veterinary clients experience about your standard fees for services rendered. Now consider the special situations that pop up with annual wellness plans. What if a patient passes away? What if clients want to cancel a plan midyear, say, because they're moving out of the neighborhood? Do you collect the remaining difference? These scenarios can be delicate when dealing with clients, especially if the services have already been rendered and are being paid out in installments.
Attempting to collect by filing a claim with a third-party collection agency can add more hidden costs that you didn't expect. Most collection companies' fees range from 15 to 30 percent of a collection balance.
4. Will wellness plans get too big for us to manage?
The biggest pitfall of wellness plans is lack of a plan. Give clients a lot of different plan options, and things get complicated fast. This creates a tidal wave of unexpected hurdles, loss of time and revenue.
Start small with a single wellness plan, where payments are an upfront, one-time cost.
I recommend you start small with a single plan-for example, puppy or kitten plans-where payments are an upfront, one-time cost. Use this opportunity to test the waters: How many clients buy them? Track these sales in your practice management software so you can analyze the impact on your business.
Do your homework. There are resources out there on implementing and developing these programs properly (this one, for instance).
Don't just make a splash out of the gate-commit and dive in to make these successful and profitable. Offering wellness plans takes more time and investment then simply just dreaming them up and passively making them available to your clients.
Roger Zinn, CVPM, is hospital administrator at Animal Medical Center of the Village in Houston, Texas.