6 lessons from my year of wellness plans

May 23, 2016
Jill Windy, DVM

I was enthusiastic about wellness plans at my veterinary practice, but even I ran into hiccups getting clients to sign up and team members to offer them. Heres what I learned.

Editor's note: A longer version of this advice from Jill Windy, DVM, a Well-Managed Practice owner, appears in Benchmarks 2015: A Study for Well-Managed Practices from Wutchiett Tumblin & Associates and Veterinary Economics. For more on how Well-Managed Practices boosted revenue in 2015 and before, get your own copy here.

With veterinary wellness plans, Dr. Jill Windy aimed to make it the Year of Not Living Dangerously for her pet patients.(Photo Getty Images)Congratulations! You've implemented a wellness program. Your veterinary team is behind it, clients love it, compliance is growing-and so is your bottom line. Not exactly? As another year of patient care is behind us, each of us has had a little more experience with what works-and what doesn't-in our veterinary practices' wellness plans. Here are some of my observations:

1. Emphasize to team members that this is a payment plan-not a big discount

I can't think of a better way to wreck a client's perceived value on any of your services than to heavily discount something: Why were they paying the previous price? Are all your services over-priced?

We have a small discount on our wellness programs (less than 10 percent), but we've had to really reinforce to the client and patient care teams to focus on the budgeting aspect, the included services and preventive medications vs. the savings. It's an ongoing focus of getting the right message from team members to clients.

Keep on reiterating to team members the right things to emphasize to clients ...

Renewal rates were negatively affected when the focus shifted to how much was saved over the benefits of “pay as you go,” because clients didn't always think it was worth it. They weren't shown and didn't recognize that their pets consistently received the care they needed. In some instances, we found diseases with early detection screening. Realigning the focus to emphasize the health benefits for patients and easy budgeting for clients is the true value of a wellness program. But you can't assume everyone will understand that. Keep on reiterating the right things to emphasize to clients in talking about your wellness program.

2. Check that goals are being met

You designed your wellness plan to focus on specific healthcare components-the preventive care and regular veterinary visits that keep pets happy and healthy. You set some growth targets. But did you meet them?

Our wellness plan focused on client bonding, preventive care and early detection screening. We examined our numbers for key services. We saw an increase in every category-number of plans, renewal rates, active clients, wellness exams, labs, vaccines and doses of heartworm/flea preventive.

If you don't track your wellness plan goals, how will you know whether it's working?

3. Don't forget the client

While having the entire staff involved in which services to include and how to talk about them is critical, the client is king (or queen). We found that clients weren't using some of the perks in our original program, so we took them out. Our clients loved having individualized care and having preventives included in the program. Survey your clients to see what they think, and build a list of clients who didn't renew and find out why.

4. Be medically sound

As recommendations change, be sure your wellness program does too. Always be current with standards of care for your area and your patients' individual risk assessments.

5. Don't be afraid of the “M” word

Oh no. Marketing. Where are your clients looking and where are you? Hopefully those two things match. Can a client find out about your programs wherever they look for veterinary care? Review your social media presence, materials in the exam rooms, brochures, posters and staff as well as client conversations. Does every team member know their role in marketing and talking to potential and current clients about the plans?

We discovered a disparity in the way our client care team opened the subject with clients ...

We discovered a disparity in the way members of our client care team opened the subject when placing clients in the exam room. Finding the root cause (and, no, they're not deliberately trying to make your program fail) goes a long way to solving the problem. For example, we found out one team member was very uncomfortable talking about the wellness plans, so she didn't. We gave her further training and scripts and reviewed the real patient benefits of good compliance. That increased her confidence.

6. Remember change is the only constant

No matter how well we think we have things figured out, there's always room for improvement. Special situations arise. Bugs reveal themselves. Product availability or offers change. Remember to give yourself permission to change your wellness plan. Honor the contracts you have, but go ahead and change what you do moving forward.

We learn new things every single year we offer wellness plans. Whether you're in the middle of a wellness program already or are just toying with the idea of a client-bonding program of some type, the most important thing is to do something. Don't worry if it doesn't work right off the bat. As a wise veterinarian once told me, “If you don't have some bad ideas, then you aren't having enough ideas.”

Dr. Windy owns Noah's Landing Pet Care Clinic in Elkhart, Indiana.