Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
Pet health insurance has been a part of our industry for longer than you might think. It dates back nearly 130 years to Swedish businessman Claes Virgin, who wrote policies covering horses and livestock. Not until 1982 was the first policy issued in the United States. As of 2018, about 2.2 million pets were insured across North America, and the number is rising. The trend benefits the veterinary profession and the patients we treat.
A troubling fact, though, is that the vast majority of U.S. cats and dogs — more than 98% — are not covered. What can we do to reduce that number?
The concept of pet health insurance should be introduced to clients as early as possible. The conversation should start with the support team before the client even sees the doctor.
Who is responsible for starting the conversation, and what kind of messaging and resources are necessary? Technicians typically have more face time with clients and therefore are in the best position to make insurance part of the standard discussion.
Here’s a strategy for your practice.
1. Research Pet Insurers
Understand how each company differs. Coverage levels, limitations, waiting periods, premiums and reimbursement processes are important features of any policy. Client feedback about their experiences — both good and bad — might be helpful. Promote just one or two companies, and make sure to train team members so that they are familiar with the providers. Everyone will then be an advocate for pet insurance and your clients will hear a consistent message.
2. Begin the Conversation Early
When clients call to schedule an appointment or they arrive at the practice for the first time, ask whether their pet is insured. If they are insured, add policy information, including the policy number, to the patient record. If they are not insured, begin the conversation. Document that the subject was raised and note the resources provided and the result of the conversation. A client who shows no interest doesn’t want to feel pressured about insurance on subsequent visits.
3. Share Specific Information
Brochures are a valuable resource, but they cannot stand alone. In order to effectively educate your clients, talk to them and walk them through insurance information.
The effort will strengthen the conversation about the benefits of having coverage, and since you are promoting only one or two companies, the information is specific. Provide brochures to reinforce the message, and direct clients to the company websites for additional information and enrollment. Include brochures in welcome kits given to new clients and owners of puppies or kittens.
4. Involve the Whole Team
If everyone understands the benefits of pet health insurance, you will build a supportive culture. As the client interacts with team members, the pet owner will hear a consistent message. Although initially introduced by the front office team, coverage benefits can be reinforced by technicians and veterinarians as they interact with the client. This should become a routine part of the practice philosophy and client communication. Appoint one or more team members to be “insurance specialists.” They will be the go-to resource for employees and clients who want detailed information.
5. Make Claim Filing Easier
Provide the client with information you know the insurance company will need to process the claim. Invoices should be itemized, and medical records should show any diagnoses, treatments and medications administered or dispensed. Doing this will expedite the claims process. A survey conducted by the North American Pet Health Insurance Association revealed that 85% of pet owners considering insurance were more likely to purchase it if their veterinarian could submit claims directly to the insurance company. A little hand-holding goes a long way.
6. Get the Word Out
Provide the basics about pet health insurance on your website and social media platforms, and include links to the one or two companies you recommend. Share client testimonials and success stories. When clients hear firsthand about how other patients received treatment because they were insured, owners are more likely to obtain coverage.
NAPHIA studies have shown over and over that insured clients spend more on veterinary care than uninsured pet owners. As a technician, you want to provide necessary care for your patients, especially when the case is difficult or the treatment plan is costly. We all relax a little when our clients inform us that their pet is covered.
Insured pets are brought in sooner and more often to receive the care they need, leading to better outcomes and higher compliance rates. These clients are more likely to accept your recommendations.
We all want clients to accept our recommendations. Take an active role in communicating the benefits of pet health insurance. Everyone benefits — the client, patient and hospital.