5 steps to a pitch-perfect wellness plan
Meg Oliver is practice manager at Cicero Animal Clinic in Brewerton, New York.
Every practice has a unique voice and mission, so "one-plan-fits-all" doesnt work. Here are my overall tips for managing a wellness-plan that fits your practice, not someone elses vision for your practice.
These tips can help you get the veterinary team singing in harmony on wellness plans. (Shutterstock.com)Wellness plans are nothing new in our industry. Yet it still surprises me that almost none of my neighboring veterinary clinics offer them. I even talked to some local management colleagues about whether they'd offer them now or in the future, and I was met with a good deal of resistance. Of course, we've all heard the reasons before: “I don't think we'll benefit from it,” or, “My owner isn't ready to make the jump.”
This past May marked our fifth anniversary of offering wellness plans to our clients. The plans are in-house, monthly payment plans I researched and built myself. Five years later, they're still going strong. (I feel like that's quite an achievement, possibly even worthy of a chocolate cake with sprinkles. After all, we all know calories don't count on birthdays and anniversaries!)
Five years in, the plans feel like second nature to us. It wasn't always this way, but it wasn't all that difficult either. I don't want to frighten you away. I think the keyword to help make any wellness plan possible (or virtually any other thing implemented in daily practice) is “time.” You need time to research, time to think and time to plan. If you make wellness plans a priority, you'll build time into your day to work on them.
The second thing to remember is we all have different clinics, and as such we probably all have different goals for our wellness plans. So why standardize yourself according to what works for someone else? I won't give you my template. Making your own works best, I promise. But after five years of trial and error, here are a few lessons you can apply to whatever plan you choose.
No. 1: Change is necessary
The best laid plans … we all know the saying. No matter how much you research and plan, something will need to be changed somewhere. Maybe it's in your practice software. Maybe it's in your marketing or tracking. Time will tell, but the point is you will need to change things.
If you assess and review all aspects of your plans at least twice a year, you might head off a problem before it arises. For example, something that worked last year may no longer be part of your medical protocol, so you'll need to adjust your wellness plan.
No. 2: Track, track, track
Am I the only one who finds joy in tracking data? I don't think anyone gets as excited as I do when I hear the word “spreadsheet.” But even if you don't get all giddy at the thought of looking at numbers in cells, it's key that you track your wellness plan performance. We can't rely on anecdotal evidence when trying to implement a new service. You may feel like it's going well all you want, but how is it actually going?
‘No one told me about that!'
There will be times when a veterinary client will express frustration because “no one told me about that.” It would then be nice to pinpoint when it was offered and if there was a lapse in communication.
Our practice uses a simple line item code-“Wellness Plan Offered”-that's entered in the patient history. Then we know that it was discussed and can handle the situation appropriately. Track, track, track!
Of course, there are many styles of wellness plans and many ways to track them. Will you track how many total patients you sign up, or will you only watch a specific targeted group? Are you most interested in how compliance improves for follow-up exams … or fecals? Decide what your KPIs (key performance indicators) are, track them and then use the data.
No. 3: Get your team on board-no matter the plan specifics
Some folks offer discount plans. Some folks offer unlimited exams. Some folks offer monthly payments. It doesn't matter. The specifics of the plan would have been decided and discussed upon its creation and those will vary from clinic to clinic.
What does matter is that your staff has a clear understanding of the benefits of signing up for the wellness plan, so they can explain them to clients with a consistent message.
I don't discount our plans. You can if you want, and many do. I have a few levels of plans, all of which include screening blood work and unlimited exams for the term. Some include flea, tick and heartworm preventives. Because some of these plans include medications that range in price due to size, there are cost averages assumed and prices with a plan may be higher than if you bought them a la carte.
The benefit of our plans is that you have the opportunity to provide the level of care that we recommend while paying for it over 12 months. It may even cost a little more because you're essentially financing healthcare. We deliver this message up front, and clients decide either that it's right for them or it's not. But the consistent message from team members is critical and helps ensure that clients don't buy a plan with false expectations.
No. 4: Don't set and forget your goals
You may decide you want to sign up five or 10 patients per month. You may decide you want 10 percent of your active patients on wellness plans. You may decide you want 150 active plans at all times. Whatever you decide, stick to it.
Just like everything new and shiny, wellness plans are an easy focus for a while, but they get flushed out of team members' brains with all the new information we throw their way. Frequent reminders are necessary.
I keep a “Wellness Plans Sold” sign-up sheet in the treatment area. The goal is eight new plans a month per team member, and they get to color a leaf on the (terribly designed) flower picture on the tracking sheet. At our monthly staff meeting, I discuss the number of plans sold and active plans and how that compares to last month's numbers. This all helps us remember the importance of these goals.
No. 5: Delegate, delegate, delegate
You don't need to babysit every single element of your wellness plans. If you're like me, you have other things to do. Eventually, you won't need to be the one to watch the recurring payments every day to make sure they didn't decline or the one to send out letters about automatic renewals.
You can and should hand off those things to a capable team member, and there are two big reasons why. One, you're busy! If someone else can do it, hand it off and do a task only you can do. Two, delegating responsibility for tasks about the wellness plans builds team investment in those plans, which helps staff remember to offer them. Once you delegate wellness-plan tasks, the whole thing will seem a lot less cumbersome.
Don't be concerned if it takes a long time to hand off specific elements. It can take a while to work out all the kinks before you want someone else to manage the task. It just takes time to get there, not to mention trial and error.
Wellness plans have worked out … well
Overall, I'm glad I developed these plans. I recognize I'm lucky enough to work for an owner who said “go for it,” which gave me fewer battles to fight and more motivation to move forward. I'm also lucky enough to have a team willing to give anything a try. I'm beyond thrilled that we've had a good response from clients and maintained growth in our plans for five years.
But above all, I'm glad to know that our plans are just that-ours. I know what other clinics offer, and I've read the other articles that say what you should and shouldn't do. But I also now know that I needed to focus more on tailoring the plans to the needs of our practice, our clients and our patients, and focus less on benchmarks about what others say should be included and how much things should be discounted.
I've made sure these wellness plans mean something substantial to patient care in a way that works for us.
Stay positive. Be patient with yourself and others during the process. You can do it! (And then come back and celebrate with me after five years too!)
Meghann Oliver is practice manager at Cicero Animal Clinic in Syracuse, New York.