Why 'use it or lose it' works in veterinary wellness plans

September 15, 2017
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

When veterinary clients pay an annual feeor monthly installmentsfor wellness services over the course of a year, will they be mad if they don't use them? Not if you remind them. (You ARE sending out regular reminders for everything, right?)

Clients who pay for annual veterinary wellness plans should be watching the clock. If they don't, don't worry. (Shutterstock.com)Way before the genius veterinarians and businesspeople swept in to build companies to manage wellness plans for veterinary practices, one particular practice owner, evaluator and consultant, Karl Salzsieder, DVM, JD, CVA, saw the opportunity in monthly-payment wellness plans and just did it himself. (Veterinary Economics wrote about his efforts numerous times over the years. If you're thinking about getting into wellness plans, you might be inspired by dvm360.com/sampleplan or dvm360.com/wellnessplans.)

And Dr. Salzsieder has fielded every question under the sun about wellness plans. Tops among them:

  • Should I include free visits for plan members (a la Banfield, where you don't pay for the visit, you pay for the product or service at the visit, as needed)?

  • How do I make sure clients come in to use the services they've paid for by the end of the year?

Too hard. Don't wanna.

When some readers used to see Dr. Karl Salzsieder's wellness plans, they would break out in hives. Who's going to set this up? How do we charge for it? Who's going to send out reminders? Who's going to administer this? Today, you are free to rock your own plan ... or you can get help. Here are a handful of companies poised to help make implementing annual wellness plans doable:

• DVM Network offers, not a wellness plan, but the loyalty discount card Pet Assure. It's like Diner's Club, only for veterinary practices. Some practitioners who use it swear by it.

• The big PIMS and diagnostic dog IDEXX has the wellness plan Petly Plans.

Premier Pet Care Plan promises a real hands-on, coaching take on implementing a wellness plan at your veterinary practice.

• Got a mixed-animal practice? Prevent Plans' Well Pet Plans cover cats, dogs and horses.

• We quote Veterinary Credit Plans' Jessica Goodman Lee here in the article, and the company helps veterinary practices implement, market and manage those pesky credit card payments for annual wellness plans.

The takeaway? You're smart, and you can go it alone on wellness plans with a strong action plan, a great practice manager to help, and a team-wide effort. But if you want backup, look around the next Fetch conference exhibit hall, or check out the offerings like those above on Products360.

Dr. Salzsieder will argue any day that for most clients and most pets, you will come out way ahead, and that patient care will come out way ahead, when clients aren't staying away from your hospital ("Let's just wait and see...") because they're afraid of an automatic charge for a visit. Wellness-plan clients come in an average of 5 times a year; clients not on the plan visit an average of 1.1 times.

And that second question, about unused services? Dr. Salzsieder has a solution for that too: Tell them. And tell them again.

"Our solution is to mail them a letter about 90 days before the end of the term of the one-year agreement and include in that letter notice of the items that still need to be checked before the plan expires," Dr. Salzsieder says. That gets some busy clients over the hump and into the exam room.

"We also add them to our compliance calls, so they're called or receive a phone message to remind them to come in for the unused items," he says. That helps some clients.

One company managing wellness plans for independent veterinary practices is Veterinary Credit Plans, and their process mirrors Dr. Salzsieder's-except with an email bent. Director of Veterinary Solutions Jessica Goodman Lee, CVPM, says their system sends email reminders 90 days out and 60 days from the end of the plan's automatic renewal date.

But Goodman Lee says she and her team coach veterinary practice managers to make calls and send out customized emails, like Dr. Salzsieder's, that spell out not just the date of the end of the plan, but exactly which services (free with the paid plan!) the client hasn't taken advantage of.

"The goal is to build the plans around bi-annual exams and preschedule every exam before they leave the practice," Goodman Lee says. That's twice-a-year visits, at least, as well as forward booking. (Do what dentists do, you won't be sorry.)

Still, Dr. Salzsieder says, after letters and calls (and maybe some emails), some clients still don't make it in.

"We have around 30 percent of clients that don't use all of the medical procedures that are part of the plan," he says. But that doesn't infuriate these customers. According to Dr. Salzsieder, the vast majority of pet owners feel they were warned but just didn't get around to it. And they still sign up for the plan again.

"We have an estimated 85 to 90 percent renewal year over year," Dr. Salzsieder says. "Once they're on the plans, they love them and know that their pet gets more veterinary attention and a savings at the hospital for the plan savings and for the extra 5 percent discount for things that are not included with the plan that their pet needs during the wellness plan year."

Editor's Note: Don't freak, you antidiscounters. YOU don't have to offer a discount. Plans at some practices do well just with the client convenience of knowing what wellness plan services are needed for a healthy pet and offering monthly installments to pay for it.

Another Editor's Note: Don't freak, you people pleasers. YOU don't have to cancel services a client didn't use. Want to honor a service they paid for in 2017 first thing in January 2018? The company you work with might have a code for that.