Preventive Healthcare Plans

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


A preventive healthcare 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 well care, essential vaccines, certain diagnostics, such as heartworm tests and blood work, and internal parasite control. They may also include spay/neuter surgery or routine dental cleanings. The core elements of preventive healthcare plans are a commitment for a year’s preventive services on the part of the pet owner, and the opportunity to pay for those services in convenient monthly installments.

“Practices that design their plans well and build a culture around the importance of preventive healthcare have a high acceptance rate from their clientele,” says Jessica Lee, CVPM, Pinnacle Veterinary Solutions, Dallas, Texas. “Pet owners appreciate the convenience, even if they pay upfront for the entire year.”

Several years ago, when she was with Brakke Consulting, Lee helped create a number of resources, or “tools,” to help practices implement preventive healthcare plans, as part of Partners for Healthy Pets. Today, at Pinnacle Veterinary Solutions, she continues to work with practices and various companies on implementing such plans.

Partners for Healthy Pets (www.partnersforhealthypets.org) is a consortium of professional and industry organizations that has developed resources to help veterinarians educate pet owners on the importance of preventive pet healthcare. Among its offerings is a “toolbox” of professionally developed resources to help practices implement preventive healthcare, available free of charge on the Partners for Healthy Pets website.

It takes work

Preventive healthcare plans ensure that practices see patients at least twice a year, and they offer them the opportunity to bond with pets and pet owners, and educate them about the importance of preventive care, says Lee. “Offering plans demonstrates that the practice recognizes the bond clients have with their pets and is committed to doing everything they can to make sure they live long and healthy lives. 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 – i.e., remove the greatest barrier to care.”

When done right, these plans almost sell themselves, says Lee. “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 their plans, says Lee, with the biggest chunk of time and effort spent training the staff. And that begins with the veterinarians.

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

The practice owner(s) need to invest time in training their team about the need for the plans, and in how to present them to clients. And this is not a one-shot deal, says Lee. “I see people trying to train their team in an hour-long session, but that’s not enough. 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 recalls. “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.”

Hazards

Inadequate team training is probably the biggest reason preventive plans fail, says Lee. But another reason is complexity.

“I see practices trying to put too much in the plans from the start,” she says. “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.” Once the practice gets these plans under their belt, they can introduce adult and senior plans. 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 are finding pet owners are interested in plans that offer a dentistry option, Lee adds.

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

If the healthcare plan is executed correctly, getting clients to renew shouldn’t be a problem, says Lee. “You need a good 70 to 80 percent renewal rate to make these programs worthwhile,” she says. Step One is to make sure 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 have purchased. Step Two is to notify clients when the renewal date is approaching. Automatic renewals are OK, so long as the client is notified that their plan is about to be renewed.

Monitoring performance

“As with any initiative, it is important to have goals and to track how well a program is doing,” says Lee. “Not only does this mean setting a goal for plan sales, but for seeing an increase in annual visits and in usage of certain services. For example, are plans increasing the number of heartworm tests being done? Also, a great goal is to focus on feline plans as a means of improving care. Are more cats coming to the practice? Are they coming in more often? Are more of them receiving services than before?”

And the potential role of the distributor sales rep?

When the sales rep learns that a customer has introduced preventive healthcare plans, he or she can make sure that the veterinary team has received education on parasite prevention, dentistry, vaccinations, etc., says Lee. They can show interest in the plans, and ask about them regularly. Anything the rep can do to support the team will be appreciated.

“Ultimately, if the plan is successful, the distributor will benefit,” says Lee. “By getting involved, [the rep] is demonstrating that he or she is client-centric too, and will reap the rewards of increased loyalty.”

Is your customer thinking of implementing a preventive healthcare plan?

Partners for Healthy Pets provides several online resources for veterinary practices to use to develop preventive healthcare plans. Available at Partners for HealthyPets.org, these materials can be downloaded as PDF documents or PowerPoint slide presentations. They include:

• An Overview document, which describes the benefits and key elements of preventive healthcare plans, and case studies of veterinarians who have used plans in their practices.

• A detailed Implementation Manual, which discusses designing and managing a plan, involving the healthcare team in administering it, marketing the plan to clients, and key performance indicators that measure the impact of healthcare plans on the practice.

• Worksheets in spreadsheet and document formats for plan pricing.

• A Team Training Manual, which explains the roles and responsibilities of healthcare team members in developing and implementing healthcare plans.

• A Preventive Healthcare Plans slide presentation for team training purposes. The slides can be modified to include plan details and pricing specific for each practice.

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