Creative Disruption columnist Dr. Bob Lester is the chief medical officer at WellHaven Pet Health, a former practice owner and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves on the boards of Pet Peace of Mind, WellHaven Pet Health and the Lincoln Memorial veterinary college. He is president-elect of the North American Veterinary Community.Read Articles Written by Bob Lester
Secret formulas have been credited with the success of many well-known companies. Think Coca-Cola, KFC, Google with its algorithm and maybe Krusty Krab with its SpongeBob SquarePants Krabby Patty. What otherwise would have been pedestrian brands with limited potential instead became household names.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could mix up a secret formula so that client compliance would skyrocket? With a dash here and there, team member wellness issues would diminish, pet lifespans would increase, financial well-being would improve and client satisfaction would rise. Wouldn’t that be great?
The secret formula that millennial and Gen Z pet owners highly desire reduces fee hassles, diminishes emergencies and dramatic or reactive situations, provides more interactions to better educate clients, reduces seasonality, results in more pet visits, lowers veterinary team stress, delivers more dentals, keeps today’s fur babies from getting sick, improves day-to-day hospital scheduling, deepens the relationship between pet families and hospital teams, stresses regular preventive care, and ensures compliance and convenience. This secret formula results in happier teams, happier clients, a happier bottom line and longer living pets.
Too good to be true? Nope. The secret formula exists in our profession. Thousands of pets, pet owners, hospital teams and practices are benefiting every day. The revenue realized from the formula is more than that of all the U.S. pet insurance companies combined.
What in the world am I talking about? Answer: subscription models of preventive care. In other words, wellness plans. Before you roll your eyes and turn to the next column, hear me out.
These plans were developed during hard economic times and allowed clients to budget necessary care. Given our world’s COVID-19 crisis, they have never been more powerful. Imagine how much better your veterinary practice would have managed over the past few months with the annuity of several thousand plans, the financial stability to keep your team employed, and the clients’ peace of mind knowing that veterinary care was already budgeted.
A Fundamental Approach
First, what does a subscription preventive care plan look like? It’s simply a package of annual veterinary services designed to keep pets healthy and for which clients pay a monthly fee. These plans include physical examinations, necessary vaccinations, diagnostics like bloodwork and heartworm testing, parasite control, and dental care.
Subscription preventive care plans are not discount or loyalty programs. They are not pet insurance. Instead, they are a fundamental way of approaching your practice, clients and team with a laser focus on delivering preventive care so that pets can live longer, healthier and happier lives. Subscription model preventive care is merely a delivery vehicle to provide necessary care in a way that is proven to appeal to pet owners, especially in trying times.
Well Care or Sick Care?
Allow me a brief rant. Health care systems have always had it wrong. Health care isn’t health care at all. It’s really sick care. We’ve successfully monetized sick care, a reactive approach, when we should have monetized well care, a proactive approach. This is true of both human and veterinary medicine.
Imagine practicing in the well-care industry where the majority of patient interactions are proactive, relationship-based, more frequent and at a lower cost, and they result in longer happier and healthier lives. Providers are far less likely to struggle with the human wellness issues we face today.
Sadly, one of the unintended consequences of building our profession around sick care is the resulting sickness in our health care profession. By placing doctors and teams in the often-impossible situation of unbudgeted crisis care, poor prognoses, highly emotional situations and resulting euthanasia, we inadvertently promote burnout, compassion fatigue and mental health issues. Sickness in our providers and patients is the inevitable result of this vicious cycle.
How can we flip the paradigm to a focus on keeping pets from getting sick? How can we stop glamorizing the reactive, complex, challenging, difficult and often preventable diseases we frequently treat today? When will our next team meeting discuss how we failed a client whose pet we saw for years and just diagnosed with diabetes? Where did we fail to educate on exercise and nutrition? What could we do better? Preventive care is the answer.
Every day, because of our efforts to educate and preach the value of good nutrition, behavior, immunizations, parasite prevention and dental health, pets are not getting sick. Let’s build and celebrate a model around well care, not sick care.
Longer Life Expectancy
Pet lifespans have risen dramatically over the last several decades mainly due to preventive care efforts. Cats are routinely living 12 to 15 years and dogs 10 to 13. But what is their biological potential? How old would cats and dogs live if preventive care recommendations approached 100%? I suspect we’d routinely see 20-year-old cats and teenage dogs. Imagine the benefits to society should our beloved pets’ lifespans increase by 50%.
At the risk of sounding crass, imagine the financial well-being of our practices if our patients lived that much longer. Geriatric care would skyrocket. In human health care, we spend five times as much on seniors than on children and three times more than on working-age adults. If our senior pets’ years doubled, the financial implications for veterinary practices would be considerable.
We shouldn’t have to make a case for preventive care, but I’ll do it anyway. Everyone wins with routine preventive care. Pets live longer, pet owners have peace of mind knowing their pet is receiving the best care, hospital teams are happier, and our profession and society all benefit.
It’s Nice to See You Again
Gaining client compliance is tough, particularly given the model of reactive pet medicine practiced today. Under our current model, we’re lucky to see pets once a year. During a brief 20- to 25-minute appointment, we’re asked to address the presenting complaint and educate clients on the importance of preventive care. More difficult yet, the veterinarian is involved for only 10 to 15 minutes of each encounter. It’s a nearly impossible task. Clients can absorb only so much in one visit.
We need a model that drives more visits — both in-person and virtual — and relies more on the veterinary nurse and less on the doctor. Subscription preventive care plans are the answer, connecting pet owners with the veterinary team several times a year.
I fear I’m starting to sound like a bad late-night infomercial — “But wait, there’s more!” But there is more. Take a look at our dominant workforce and pet owner, or what I refer to as PetGen (millennials plus Generation Z). PetGen lives life around the convenience and budgeting availed through subscription plans. Don’t believe me? Check my kid’s Visa statements: Blue Apron, Dollar Shave Club, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hello Fresh, Barkbox, Kindle Direct, Stitch Fix, Regal Movies Unlimited. The case for subscription models is clear.
Additionally, today’s pet owners (and probably yesterday’s) are not particularly interested in hearing my exam room dissertation on Lepto, hepatitis, parvo, feline leukemia and ascarids. Zzzzzzzzz. I don’t need to wind up my spiel for the 20th time today when the client and I know that their pet is enrolled in a plan and is receiving all necessary care in support of a long and happy life.
Instead, we can talk about the things they want to talk about, like nutrition, the dog park, behavior, the litter box, the pet’s emotional well-being, breed-specific concerns, the weather, the big game. Further still, the vast majority of care delivered through these plans can and should be delivered by empowered, appreciated and fairly compensated team members with veterinary nurses leading the charge. Incidentally, the improved profitability derived from subscription models allows practice owners the freedom to raise wages and benefits.
For Everyone’s Well-Being
WellHaven Pet Health offers a subscription model of preventive care we call a Care Companion Plan. In addition to exams, diagnostics and immunizations, we offer a telemedicine component and monthly flea/tick and heartworm medication. We rolled it out in 2019 and will have over 10,000 families enrolled by year’s end. It’s one of the ways we promote happy pets and families, happy teams, and the improved financial well-being of a thriving practice. (See the table at right.)
Just yesterday, we saw a 10-year-old kitty for regular preventive care. Routine bloodwork delivered as part of her Care Companion Plan revealed slightly elevated kidney numbers. By catching problems early, our team added years of quality life to the family’s beloved four-legged fur baby.
We all see the benefits of routine preventive care every day. Subscription preventive care plans are simply one more effective way to deliver it.
Coca-Cola, Google and SpongeBob figured out secret formulas to engage consumers, differentiate themselves, provide what customers demand and benefit all parties. I submit that we already have a secret formula in our profession, one that provides for healthy pets, healthy families, healthy teams and healthy practices.
The secret formula is simply a commitment to preventive care delivered through subscription plans. The secret is out. Give them a try. They work.