Dr. Wendy Hauser is the founder of Peak Veterinary Consulting. She writes extensively and speaks frequently about hospital culture, communications, leadership, client relations and operations. She represents the American Animal Hospital Association in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s House of Delegates.Read Articles Written by Wendy Hauser
Bundled wellness services are not new to veterinary medicine. A 2015 survey performed by the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association found that almost 14 percent of respondents reported offering wellness plans in their hospitals for seven or more years.
Why are these hospitals such advocates of wellness plans? Consider the following five reasons to implement wellness plans in your hospital.
1. Wellness plans help increase the number of client visits per year.
According to “The Market for Veterinary Services,” a 2016 report from the American Veterinary Medical Association, client visits within a constant sample size fell by 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2014. In one case study, “How Wellness Plans Grow Veterinary Practice,” clients who participated in wellness plans went from a mean of 3.3 visits a year before enrollment to 5.5 visits a year after enrollment.
Why might wellness plans positively influence the number of patient visits? Consider:
Wellness plans create opportunity for more robust client education and encourage owners to be proactive with their pets’ health care. Early detection of disease allows for better patient care and outcomes. Management of these patients often necessitates additional services and visits.
Seeing clients more frequently encourages veterinarians to nurture a better partnership, improving the hospital-client bond.
Most wellness plans incorporate semiannual examinations, providing a perfect way to transition to forward-booked appointments. The American Animal Hospital Association’s 2015 “State of the Industry Report” found that 6 in 10 pet owners would forward-book their next appointment before leaving the practice. The combination of forward-booking and monthly paid wellness plans that incorporate semiannual visits provides powerful motivations for owners to ensure their pets receive these valuable services.
2. Wellness plans may set you apart from neighboring hospitals.
The benefits to offering wellness plans are many. First, they are marketing tools. If your hospital is in an area of increasing competitive pressure, they provide an excellent way to differentiate your clinic. One hospital profiled in a case report noted an increase in new-patient numbers of 30 to 40 a month, all of which were tracked directly to wellness plans. Veterinarians in that practice noted that most of these new clients were new pet owners who gravitated toward the plans for two major reasons:
- The plans provided monthly budgeted payments for a pet’s health care expenses.
- The plans directed the owners toward important preventive care services.
As cited in multiple studies, the statements above support the important finding that pet owners want routine care delivered in monthly payments. While clients have made their preferences known, the veterinary profession has been slow to respond to their needs. Insiders’ Insight, published by the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association, reported that 11.5 percent of practices surveyed in 2014 offered preventive care plans. The number increased to 20 percent in 2015, yet in a April 2017 survey, only 11.5 percent of hospitals reported offering wellness plans.
These statistics represent one more way we are failing to listen to clients and provide what they want.
3. Wellness plans are client-retention tools.
In the February 2016 Insiders’ Insight, survey respondents perceived that clients were displaying different consumer attitudes, namely that “clients are better educated, more likely to shop around for the best price and are looking for more payment options.” One way to manage these shifting attitudes and enhance client retention is to prevent them from seeking services elsewhere.
Fundamentally, wellness plans are loyalty plans. In exchange for the opportunity to pay monthly for bundled services, clients agree to a one-year commitment to receive their pet’s preventive care at your hospital.
Research has proven that the client’s commitment is not limited to preventive care services. One case study measured a 58 percent increase in mean spending on medical services among clients with wellness plans and a nonmedical, out-of-plan spending increase of 28 percent.
Wellness plans help foster bonds of trust between health care teams, patients and clients. It is critical that hospitals offering wellness plans honor these bonds by providing exceptional client experiences and medical care. In the absence of such commitment, clients might be left feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied.
4. Wellness plans enhance the quality of patient care.
Wellness plans increase patient visits, allowing for early detection of disease and appropriate patient management. More visits allow for more time to discuss important topics with owners, such as weight control, pain management and dental disease. In “How Wellness Plans Grow Veterinary Practice,” dental compliance jumped from 8.4 percent to 74.4 percent for enrolled pets once annual dental cleanings were included in more comprehensive wellness plans.
Many health care teams find that wellness plans help shorten examination room times as owners participating in the programs require minimal conversation about money. This allows team members to focus on the pet and the client. Team members report lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction in hospitals that embrace wellness plans.
5. Wellness plans help manage client financial limitations.
A 2017 article published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association examined the impact of client financial limitations on career satisfaction and perceived burnout in small animal veterinarians. The role of the veterinarian in discussing the costs of care with clients was retrospectively examined.
As explained in the article, pet owners represented a paradox in expectations. On one hand, they believed that the veterinarian’s focus should be on the pet’s care and well-being rather than on the cost of care. On the other hand, pet owners expressed dissatisfaction about the lack of conversations regarding the anticipated lifetime cost of care for the pet, strategies to help pet owners manage these costs and, in more immediate situations, a lack of candid conversation about the cost of sick care diagnostics and treatments.
These findings highlight an opportunity to engage in critical conversations with clients. The importance of helping clients find ways to say “yes” to recommendations was underscored by the authors’ findings that the veterinarians surveyed felt that the burnout rate in the profession was “moderate to substantial,” as measured by 91 percent of respondents. Forty-nine percent of individuals rated themselves as moderately to substantially professionally burned out. Client financial limitations rated as either a “moderate or primary contributor to professional burnout.”
Wellness plans contain the best recommendations for the annual preventive care needs of the pet. Presented as a bundled service, wellness plans are easy for owners to understand what they receive in exchange for a monthly payment.
A monthly payment plan allows owners to budget properly. Veterinarians should emphasize to owners that the plans are designed to meet the needs of the healthy pet and do not cover accidents or illnesses. Additionally, alternatives to help pet owners plan for the future, such as pet health insurance and third-party payment plans, should be discussed with every client.