Smashing the barriers to care: Answers to your top 6 questions about veterinary wellness plans

When it comes to veterinary wellness plans, Dr. Karl Salzsieder is blazing the trail.
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Dec 01, 2011

A few months ago Dr. Karl Salzsieder, JD, of Yelm Veterinary Hospital in Yelm, Wash., revealed the nuts and bolts of his practice's DIY monthly wellness program in the article "What wellness plans can be for your practice" (see dvm360.com/annualplan). Soon the Veterinary Economics inbox was flooded with follow-up questions—clearly this was a topic you and your colleagues wanted to know more about. So we compiled the questions into a list of FAQs and went right to the source for more information on this hot topic.

But first, a recap: Wellness plan clients pay a flat fee each month ($18 to $39, depending on level of the plan) for a variety of veterinary services. The idea is for Dr. Salzsieder's clients to bring in their pets sooner and more often, which amounts to better veterinary care and more revenue.

Let's say his practice charges $30 a month for its wellness plan and has 375 clients participate. That's $11,250 per month, or $135,000 per year, plus sign-up fees. The plan is set up to auto-deduct the fee from clients' checking or savings accounts on the first of the month, so the practice sees revenue without fail before the door opens that day, regardless of the season or the weather.

Of course, some practitioners worry that wellness plans are just discounts in disguise. While it's true that in most plans the total medical value of all services is discounted about 40 percent to 50 percent, clients don't always use all the included services. Plus, the demand for services generated by more frequent visits to the practice leads to additional revenue that more than exceeds what is lost through the discounts.

Dr. Salzsieder's wellness plans offer unlimited visits during office hours. That way clients can visit the practice to ask questions without worrying about paying; it's already part of the package.

Now that you know the basics of the plan, here are the answers to those burning questions.

1 DO CLIENTS ABUSE THE UNLIMITED OFFICE CALLS?

"I don't like to use the term 'abuse' just because a few clients come in once a month with questions they wouldn't normally pay to ask," Dr. Salzsieder says. In fact, he believes that the office call charge is the biggest barrier to pets receiving the veterinary care they need. So eliminating that charge is the ultimate barrier smasher—his clients no longer hesitate to come into the clinic and ask minor questions. After all, those "minor" client questions can sometimes shine light on bigger health issues.

The plan also keeps clients from skipping follow-up appointments. "Clients will say, 'My pet doesn't look bad. I'll just wait and see what happens,'" Dr. Salzsieder says. "Now folks come in more often. And when they do, they buy support supplements and treat minor issues they'd previously ignored, which generates a lot of income."

The unlimited office calls don't slow down his staff, either. Here's why: Clients make an appointment during regular office hours (weekends and holidays aren't eligible). Once they've seen the veterinary team and the pet has been examined, they must leave the pet at the clinic and allow at least four hours for any additional work necessary. Dr. Salzsieder also offers a comprehensive exam once or twice a year. This is also a drop-off appointment. That way staff members can work these patients in during slower parts of the day. You don't increase your labor costs because you're paying employees to be there anyway.