Fact vs. Fiction on Pet Care Plans

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Hesitant veterinarians may be surprised at what care plans could do for their clinical outcomes and bottom line.

Ron Nelson, executive vice president of Covetrus® Care Plans, has heard the myths before. Some veterinary practices have convinced themselves that care plans are too hard to bring on board, too difficult to manage, and would lead to more headaches and less revenue.

The reality, said the Covetrus leader, is just the opposite.


For small-to-midsize practices, care plans can increase visits, revenue, and treatment compliance, he said, citing several data points and research. “If you compare it within the same clinic among clients that don’t have a care plan versus those who are on a care plan, we see about a 3x increase of client spending on average. In fact, we’ve seen it go from about $500 on average to about $1,400 in annual spend per year,” said Nelson.

Treatment compliance improves too, as does the ability for doctors to offer more services, he said. “When you go into a veterinary office, you’ll usually have the doctors tell you what they recommend. A lot of times, it will be like choosing services a la carte based on what you can afford, because they’re very sensitive about talking price. But when you’re on a care plan, all those services and vaccines are included in your monthly payment. Veterinarians can say, ‘These are the costs, but you’re not going to pay anything today because it’s all included in your monthly fee.’ Pet owners are more likely in that case to do whatever the doctor recommends because then they don’t have to worry about a huge bill they are not prepared for or cannot afford.”

A care plan is usually based around two visits, said Nelson. The first visit is recommended early in the year, followed by a mid-year visit. “What we see on average is that a care plan drives extra visits to the practice because pet parents are more comfortable coming in early if they feel something may be wrong or should be looked at by the veterinarian,” he said. “They are coming in sooner, instead of waiting for it to be an emergency. That contributes to higher ancillary spending. We hear a lot from doctors who are concerned they’ll lose money on care plans with the examination. With care plans, their production pay actually goes up because there are more services being rendered to the pet. So, it drives up their production.”

According to Nelson, there are three myths most often heard among veterinary practices that haven’t invested in care plans. In the following conversation with Vet-Advantage, Nelson discussed those myths and the research, data, and real-world applications they offer to skeptical veterinarians.

  1. Care plans are difficult to implement and manage, especially for small-to-midsized practices.

Nelson: This myth came from veterinarian practices that tried in the past to manage it on their own. They might have used some old software baked into a PIM system. I’ve seen clinics that still keep credit card numbers on an Excel spreadsheet – or worse, handwritten – which puts them at a high liability.

Covetrus Care Plans is a cloud-based solution delivering features and capabilities that drive efficiency for veterinary teams. Care Plans is also integrated with Covetrus Pulse™, the industry’s first cloud-based veterinary operating system, which provides efficiencies tools such as Push link and online client self-sign-up, easy visualization of billing status, and additional services.

The Covetrus Care Plans platform also has features that make it easy to operate. We do all the recurring billings. We can do a pay-in-full for the year or monthly billing. We have a customer portal where they can see their plan, how much they’ve used, and update their credit card information if they want.

I used to be in frontline sales, and I would hear the myth of care plans being hard to manage with any kind of flexibility. If clinics want to make the care plans flexible enough for different services, they can. Adding options to our care plans is easy because of technology. Not just at the enrollment – they can add options mid-plan.

They can also remove the care plan. The cancellation settlement logic was a huge feature that I would hear about because veterinary clinics used to have to go into their PIM system, figure out what service a pet parent had used, figure out retail, calculate it, determine how much they’ve paid, and then come up with a settlement. That’s all automated now.

Efficiency is more important since COVID. Veterinarians are wondering how they can create an easy path for their team that gives them flexibility. If the practice isn’t too busy and they want to do a traditional enrollment, a team member can be with the patient and use an iPad to enroll them in the care plan. But what if they have 15 people in the lobby? Well, the veterinary clinic can send an enrollment link to the client’s phone where the client can sign up and have everything set. Then, the clinic team can talk about it and finalize it during the exam. Or the clinic can push a link to the client while they’re at home and get set up for a wellness visit.

All these tools make it easier and more efficient to maximize a team’s time in the clinic.

  1. Care plans don’t make money and often become a loss-leader or discount program.

Nelson: We’ve seen clinics discount their wellness services just to be competitive and try to get new customers or new clients in the door. With care plans, because you bundle wellness services together, there’s a monthly payment. Most people are looking at the monthly payment and what they can afford. We’ve seen hospitals, practices and clinics being able to increase their wellness services prices back to where they should be at the market, not discount them.

This speaks to revenue, too. About 60% of care plan clients are new to a veterinary practice. It’s a big source for new clients, especially those with puppies and kittens, because that’s when people are shopping. The lifetime value of a care plan is much higher because you’re bringing them in as a puppy or kitten, and you’ll get a renewal every year and see they’re staying loyal to that hospital as well.

Today’s care plans are not limited to preventive care or life stages. They can be designed for pets with chronic illness, like diabetes, or even a standalone dental plan. That’s how flexible the system is.

Dental care is crucial. As a veterinarian, how can you extend your dental message year-round? We’ve seen smaller practices get so busy during February’s Dental Month via care plans that they can’t do anything else.

The key thing about a preventive care plan is that you’re able to tie them in with best practices like forward booking. You sign up a pet parent for a preventive care plan and forward book that out six to seven months. For example, it’s usually not an emergency that a pet may need a dental procedure, like teeth cleaning, and that can be part of the care plan. As a veterinarian, you help educate the pet parent about this, which is key for the plan, and it helps drive revenue. You’re also using a best practice to drive dental compliance. In addition, you are pushing it out to ensure you’re collecting funds to cover that during those first four or five months through the monthly payments. Then, you have another visit before the cleaning where you go over the key health items that they might also need to address, add to the plan, or prep them for the renewal.

In the summer, a practice may see a spike in clinic visits because of fleas and ticks. But with an annual care plan, it flattens out that seasonality somewhat, which is good. If we flatten out the visits, however, it’s important to know items like parasiticides can be added to the plan, ensuring treatment compliance and revenue to the practice.

Administrators can run reports from their care plan owners to see who hasn’t used their services and call them during slower times of the year to get them in. This helps manage the business over the year.

  1. Monthly payments for subscription care plans are a hard sell.

Nelson: We usually want the entire team onboard and enthusiastic ahead of time because it helps build a culture of wellness. One recent client had an owner who wanted to go into monthly programs, but there were some team members worried they’d lose money on people not using the services included. Unfortunately, the practice manager wasn’t enthusiastic at first. But a week later, she called back and said the team loved it. The plans were efficient for them, and the pet parents were asking for the monthly payments. So, after initially balking at the idea, they’ve become care plan advocates based on positive feedback from their clients. Now they’re seeing a huge increase in enrollment. People are demanding monthly payments from veterinary practices. We’ve seen more people come back to a veterinary practice because they offer this.

Clients want this too. We’re seeing this trend towards overall subscription-based medicine with concierge veterinary service subscriptions. It’s also evident in the overall economy. People want subscriptions, and they want to pay monthly because they want to be able to budget. As the economy continues to tighten up and inflation has risen, that’s been even more crucial, because people’s budgets are really tight, and they want to be able to forecast what they’re going to spend.

 

Ron Nelson serves as Executive Vice President of Covetrus® Care Plans, a leading wellness plan and program management solution at the forefront of the veterinary industry, driving compliance, pet owner loyalty and practice revenue. With a career spanning over 10 years in the veterinary industry, Ron brings a wealth of experience focused on wellness plan technology and program implementation.

 

Myths in Brief

Myth No.1: Care plans are difficult to implement and manage, especially for small-to-midsized practices.

Technology platforms today provide software, accounting and payment management, real-time data and analytics, care plan design, marketing support and more to help practices of all sizes launch successful care plans. These efficiencies significantly reduce care plan implementation and management costs.

 

Myth No. 2: Care plans don’t make money and often become loss leaders or discount programs.

A Covetrus study found that care plans can produce 10% revenue growth for a practice in the first year – and almost triple that in three years or less. While 10% may not sound like a lot on its own, the increased revenue the program builds may be from only 4-6% of their client base. Efficiencies provided by technology platforms improve care plan margins for vet practices.

 

Myth No. 3: Monthly payments for subscription care plans are a hard sell.

Three out of four pet parents surveyed by Harris Williams & Co. expressed a willingness to spend any amount to keep their pets healthy. This aligns with the fact that care plans increase pet parent compliance with preventative care such as annual wellness exams and vaccinations, while also offering pet parents opportunities to budget for additional services.

 

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