No two veterinary patients are the same. It's time to give up your clients big and small health care options so you can meet the needs of very patient.
Dogs and cats come in all shapes and sizes—why shouldn't healthcare plans? The sooner you start customizing care, the better you can treat patients. Here are two strategies you and your staff can implement today:
Denise Tumblin, CPA
1. Offer wellness packages. Clients pay for these bundled services up front or with installment billing.
2. Create breed-specific healthcare plans. Clients can follow these guidelines and you can consistently customize care for each patient.
Let's review: Despite all the talk about wellness packages, only 20 percent of practices surveyed offer them, according to Benchmarks 2012: A Study of Well-Managed Practices by Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates and Veterinary Economics. Most veterinarians surveyed said they don't use the plans because they don't want to reduce the price of their services—a valid point given the decades-long advice not to offer discounts. (Keep reading to find out how to offset this discount.)
Components of care in adult dog wellness packages
Veterinarians also said they don't know what to include in the packages or how to price and administer them (we'll get to this part next month). However, well-structured wellness packages are a viable option for driving patient visits without giving away your time and medicine.
Wellness packages are intended to cover wellness and prevention services—not everything a pet will ever need. If you design your package to include only basic services and communicate clearly with clients using a written contract, clients won't be surprised by fees and services that aren't covered by the plan.
Clients with wellness plans are more committed to bringing their pet in for preventive care because they've either prepaid for the care or are making budget-friendly monthly payments. More regular visits mean you have more opportunities to identify additional, necessary care not covered by the package. When a client says, "Yes!" to additional care, that's good for the patient, practice, and client relationship (you identified and resolved the pet's health needs sooner rather than later).
Wellness plans are usually designed to cater to puppies/kittens, adults, and seniors. While practices include a variety of services and products in the package, the most common are exams, vaccinations, fecal testing, and heartworm testing. See the tables belove for more info.
Most veterinarians using wellness plans have discounted services more than 20 percent from the regular à la carte price—this discount is too steep. Ideally, you should offer a price cut of 15 percent or less. The following factors make this price slash feasible:
> Pet owners purchase additional, necessary care that pets wouldn't have received if they hadn't come in for their "package visit." In some respects, the wellness package acts as a loss leader that results in additional, incremental revenue. The additional, incremental revenue helps offset the steep discount on the plan.
> Some patients enrolled under a wellness plan will not receive all the care they're entitled to. Pet owners might not schedule all of the visits—even though they've already paid for the care and you remind them.
Although veterinarians want their patients to receive what they've paid for to the patient's benefit, clients' failure to utilize the included services does play a role in the viability of offering steep discounts.
Wellness plans aren't the only way to increase veterinary visits. Every client's pet is unique, and a custom plan specific to each pet creates a huge "wow" factor—it's attractive, it's interesting, and it inspires the client to comply. Researchers estimate that breed-based diseases affect 40 percent of dogs. Being aware of a breed's risk for certain health issues is helpful for both preventive care and when pets present for illness.
Nearly 20 percent of the participants in the Benchmarks 2012 study use breed-specific guidelines for their canine patients and customize healthcare services based on breed. Only 8 percent of the participants are using feline breed-specific guidelines, and the majority of those say it's only 1 percent to 15 percent implemented in their practice.
Components of care in adult cat wellness packages
While the majority of veterinarians haven't fully implemented their standards yet, client response has been positive and practices are seeing improved compliance as a result: 33 percent of veterinarians say compliance has significantly improved, and 67 percent report compliance has somewhat improved.
Shannon Pigott, CVPM, founder and president of VetThink, recommends starting with the top three to five breeds you see and creating breed-specific medical standards based on the age of the pet.
"Decide which diseases you can detect early and intervene with medical care," Pigott says. "Use management software to set up and monitor breed-specific plans, and teach your team to 'speak' breed medicine."
Make clients feel special. The more special they feel, the more bonded they are to your practice.
Denise Tumblin, CPA, is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates in Columbus, Ohio. Please send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.