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Care packages

Preventive health care plans help ensure the well-being of a pet and consistent income for a veterinary hospital. Designing the proper one for your clinic takes time and effort.

Care packages

Most clients want to do what’s right for their pet. But finances can stand in the way. A preventive health care plan can help.

A preventive health care plan is a comprehensive package of annual veterinary services aimed at keeping a pet healthy, and for which the client can pay monthly or in a lump sum, according to Partners for Healthy Pets. These plans typically include one or more complete physical examinations for routine wellness care, essential vaccines, certain diagnostics such as heartworm tests and blood work, and internal parasite control. They also might include spay/neuter surgery or routine dental cleanings.

The core elements of preventive health care plans are a commitment for a year’s preventive services on the part of the pet owner and the opportunity to pay for the services in convenient monthly installments.

“Practices that design their plans well and build a culture around the importance of preventive health care have a high acceptance rate from their clientele,” said Jessica Lee, CVPM, the director of veterinary solutions at Veterinary CreditPlans. “Pet owners appreciate the convenience, even if they pay upfront for the entire year.”

Preventive health care plans ensure that practices see patients at least twice a year, and the plans help the veterinary team to bond with the pets and clients and educate the owners about the importance of preventive care, Lee said.

“Offering plans demonstrate that the practice recognizes the bond clients have with their pets and is committed to doing everything it can to make sure they live long and healthy lives,” she said. “Also, offering monthly payments acknowledges that clients want to do what is best for their pet and that the practice wants to do everything it can to make this possible.”

The Launch Takes Work

When done right, the plans almost sell themselves, Lee said, “But the simple fact is, it will take preparation and team training to get them off the ground.”

The practice should be prepared to spend two to three months preparing to launch its plans. The biggest chunk of time and effort is spent training the staff, and that begins with the veterinarians.

“Even before designing their plans, they need consensus on what will be in them,” Lee said. “Everyone needs to be on the same page. This is a great thing about [the plans]: They require that the veterinarians in a practice come to a consensus on preventive health standards of care.”

The practice owner needs to invest time in training the team about the need for the plans and how to present them to clients. It’s not a one-shot deal.

“I see people trying to train their team in an hour-long session, but that’s not enough,” Lee said. “You need to role-play, you need to be specific in how the plan will be presented to clients. The staff really needs to know the why behind the plans, and they need to reflect on situations that might have turned out differently had the patient been enrolled in a wellness plan.”

Time will be an issue.

“Someone complained to me about the amount of time the plan was taking at the practice,” Lee recalled. “As I dug deeper, I found they had just two receptionists for a five-doctor practice. No wonder they were having a problem. Hospitals that are willing to pay a little extra for staffing, so this can be done right, will find that the return will be great.”

Potential Pitfalls

Inadequate team training is probably the biggest reason a preventive plan fails, Lee said. But another reason is complexity.

“I see practices trying to put too much in the plans from the start,” she said. “You see incredibly complex plans with 20 optional items. The receptionist has to go over all those options with the client, check off ‘yes’ and ‘no’ boxes, review the different prices, review and have a client sign the contract, explain how the monthly payments will be deducted and take the first payment in-house. It can be incredibly time-consuming, so much so that it seems easier not to even mention plans to clients.”

Better to start simple, perhaps with puppy and kitten plans.

“The clients and staff can see the value in plans like that, and it helps everyone get familiar with the process,” Lee said.

Once the practice gets these plans under its belt, adult and senior plans can be introduced. The next step might be breed-specific plans or secondary plans that focus on a specific disease state, such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism. Many practices find that pet owners are interested in plans offering a dentistry option, Lee said.

Another key to limiting the complexity and administrative burden of preventive health care plans is to outsource payment to one of a number of firms offering electronic payment services, Lee advised. Better to let a third-party company deal with any issues than force the hospital staff to chase down monthly payments.

If the health care plan is executed correctly, getting clients to renew shouldn’t be a problem.

“You need a good 70 to 80 percent renewal rate to make these programs worthwhile,” Lee said.

Step 1 is to make sure the clients make full use of the plan — that is, consume at least 85 percent of the services offered in it. Otherwise, they may feel cheated and decide against renewing.

This means the practice has to monitor clients’ usage of the plans and continuously and actively remind them to bring in their pet for the preventive care services they purchased.

Step 2 is to notify clients when the renewal date is approaching. Automatic renewals are OK so long as the client is notified that the plan is about to be renewed.

How to implement a preventive health care plan

Partners for Healthy Pets provides online resources at www.partnersforhealthypets.org that veterinary practices can use to develop preventive health care plans. They include:

  • An overview describing the benefits and key elements of the plans and case studies of veterinarians who have used plans in their practices.
  • An implementation manual discussing how to design, market and manage a plan and measure its success.
  • A team training manual explaining the roles and responsibilities of team members in developing and implementing a health care plan.
  • A slide presentation for team training.