Pet Wellness Plans are Solidifying the Bond of Vets and Clients

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Pet wellness plans offer a way for clinics to help solidify the veterinary-client relationship while increasing revenue on core products and services.

Like most businesses, South Mississippi Animal Health Center was hit hard by the shelter-in-place orders in the early days of the pandemic. And three hurricanes during the summer and fall only added to the disruptions.

The saving grace? A forward-looking business approach, said Craig Fraser, whose wife Dr. Brandy Womack owns SMAHC. Wellness plans, online rebates, and home delivery all kept revenue coming through the door in April and May despite the clinic being closed to walk-in traffic. “If a veterinary clinic is not doing those things, they’re going to get their lunch eaten by the competition,” Fraser said.


A fit for today’s consumer

For new pet owners and long-time clients alike, particularly in a time of uncertainty with a pandemic and high unemployment, wellness plans have struck a chord. “First and foremost is they help lead to healthier lives, thus more birthdays for the pet,” said Dr. Bob Lester, chief medical officer of WellHaven Pet Health. Lester said in successfully run wellness practices, as much as 90% of revenue can come from both wellness plan services and other services delivered to WP clients. Not just from wellness services, but from additional services and procedures that veterinarians recommended as a result of doing good preventive care.

Interest in wellness plans has actually risen in the last 8-10 months, despite limitations on in-person contact with clients. “At first, we were a little bit worried, because getting a family to enroll in a subscription care plan typically takes place in the exam room,” Lester said. “You’ve got to have their trust and be able to describe it to them. It’s a little more difficult when they’re in the car or you’re doing it by text or through an open window out the parking lot.”

Pet parents have responded in large part because of the benefits wellness plans offer in budgeting for care. “They’re bonded to that pet. They love that pet. But they really like to hear that ‘Hey, for $50 to $60 a month, all of my office calls are covered, all of my preventive care is covered. If my pet ever sneezes or looks sideways, I can just call and get my pet in and my veterinarian will take a look. It’s all covered as part of the plan. I think that has made it more attractive and it outweighs any of the difficulties of getting that initial enrollment.”

Wellness plans fit with today’s dominant consumer, who Lester refers to as PetGen. It’s a combination of millennial and Gen Z, which prefer subscription services like Netflix or Dollar Shave Club, and are willing to spend the money on their pet’s care in a similar way. “There’s never been a generation that’s more open to preventive care than today’s generation.”

Chart of doses before and after pet wellness plans.

Financial win for the practice

Lester said the veterinary profession has been built through a standardized model – brick-and-mortar, one doctor, one exam room and one appointment once a year. But within that model, there is little time for educating clients on everything involved in a pet’s preventive care, including immunizations, nutrition, parasites, dental care, behavior, etc. “Another huge advantage with wellness plans is you will typically touch the pet 3-5 time a year, and not all necessarily in an exam room. Some could be virtual telehealth, phone calls, and texting. But you get those multiple touches to really educate the client.”

If the practice is getting 3-5 touches a year instead of one, and the pet is living 2-3 years longer, it’s a huge win financially. “So it’s a win for the pets, it’s a win for the pet owner, and it’s a win for the financial health of the practice and the wellness of the team,” Lester said. “You can better even out scheduling. When there used to be slow times in the year, you could push a lot of your wellness care things into the slow times of year.”

Economists would say the shift in mindset is a case of turns vs. earns. The veterinary profession has been stuck in a one-transaction mindset, Lester said. “We all talk about the average transaction fee, the average patient charge, we look at that one-time visit. And we kind of build all our metrics around that … We’ve got to move from this idea of earned, that it’s all about one transaction, to just how many times we can touch and build a deeper relationship with the pet parents.”

Talking plans

Fraser, managing director of Premier Pet Care Plan, has been in the industry since 1991, including on the distribution side. “I love veterinarians and clinics. I want to see them thrive.” He said he firmly believes that a key to success for veterinary clinics is keeping the core product sales in-house. Preventive health plans, or wellness plans, are a way to do that. Through its tracking system, Premier estimates that the average client on a plan will spend $799 more at the veterinary clinic. That includes the “A” customers that are fully compliant, and the “B” customers that may come in for vaccinations but don’t initially purchase a full year’s worth of flea/tick and heartworm preventives. “If they’re on the plan and they see value in it, they stay on the plan and they spend more money.”

Distributor reps have the relationships with the veterinary clinics and are in the best position to talk about plans. However, Fraser said the best approach with wellness plans is actually not to talk about wellness plans with clinics. Rather, Fraser said reps should focus on key topics related to the benefits of wellness plans. How is the clinic competing with online retailers? How many faxes are they getting in a day requesting prescriptions from some other source?

The rep can use those answers as an opening. “The rep could say, ‘Well, if I could bring somebody in to help with those things, would you be open to listening to what they have to say?’ And a lot of times you’ll have the veterinarians wanting to know more.”

Fraser said he would define Premier’s offerings as preventive health care plans. “Whether you’re in Florida or Wisconsin, you need flea/tick, heartworm, annual vaccines and health checks for pets. So that’s how we teach distribution partners to bring up plans.”

Embracing preventive care

Lester said it’s important not to think of a wellness plan as a loyalty program. A wellness plan is truly embracing preventive care. “It’s making that the center of your practice, your lifeblood. Instead of seeing a diabetic case and thinking of the diagnostics you have to work up, you’re thinking, ‘I’ve seen this pet for four or five years. We’ve not done a good enough job educating them on exercise and nutrition and other things. Shame on us for dropping the ball. So we really have to embrace preventive care and be all about it.’”

Once veterinary practices do, then it simply becomes a part of what they do from the time their client service representative is on the phone, to their website, to making sure it’s part of the offerings being discussed by the veterinarian or veterinary technician. Team members need to be believers of and participants in the wellness plans.

“It’s not a little add-on widget to the practice. It’s got to be central.”

Breaking down the benefits of subscription preventive care

Pet well-being Client well-being Team well-being Practice well-being
  • Pets live longer, happier lives.
  • Peace of mind knowing the pet gets the best care.
  • Builds more satisfying
    client relationships. 
  • Recession-resistant revenue.
  • More vet visits, and the pet is happy to visit.
  • Budgeted care, so fewer surprises.
  • Improves scheduling, so relationships are built.
  • High-margin preventive care.
  • Prevents disease.
  • Near 100% compliance.
  • Decreases reactive care and drama.
  • Consistent cash flow.
  • More dentals, so less oral pain.
  • Better client education.
  • Decreases fee conflict.
  • Decreases seasonality.
  • Better patient care.
  • Attracts new clients and retains existing clients.
  • Compliance rises, making a difference.
  • Increases profitability, compensation and benefits.
  • Early detection of disease.
  • Positive client feedback.
  • The standard of care increases.
  • Increases visits.

The big 5

Lester said the preventive services that see the biggest bump in revenue from wellness plans can be broken down into five categories:

  • Immunizations
  • Parasite prevention
  • Dental care
  • Nutrition
  • Behavior

“If pet parents embraced those, then it would really come down to compliance. We wouldn’t need wellness plans if pet parents were 100% compliant with all the recommendations I make when I walk into an exam room with my white coat stethoscope to discuss their pet’s health.”

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/FatCamera