What wellness plans can be for your veterinary practice

What wellness plans can be for your veterinary practice

Wellness plans aren't milking clients dry. They're swelling veterinary hospitals with income and helping spot patient problems. Learn what set-fee-for-service packages can do for your practice.
Jun 01, 2011

Photo by Getty Images/Image Zoo
Is your herd of clients drifting? Do they move very sloooowly to call your office for fear of the cost of visits? If so, your patients are missing out on needed care, and your practice finances are likely affected, too. A wellness program can eliminate the barrier, encouraging clients to bring in their pets sooner and more often. It can also attract clients and their pets year-round, even during your slowest months. That amounts to better care and more revenue, a bit of a—well, a cash cow.

The recent Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study confirmed that clients want pet care plans that allow complete yearlong healthcare with monthly payment options. (See "Sticker shock" for more from the study.) Bundled wellness plans, or wellness care packages, provide both. More important, they free clients to visit your veterinary hospital without hesitation.

Consider the benefits

Veterinary industry benchmarks show varying hospital visit frequency rates. These rates range from 1.2 to 2-plus visits per patient annually. Wellness plan patients at my practice, Yelm Veterinary Hospital in Yelm, Wash., visit, on average, two to three times more often. Some visit as often as eight times per year, with most coming in three to four times per year. This gives us the opportunity to provide terrific patient care and excellent preventive medicine.

So why do wellness plan participants visit their veterinary hospital more often? One of the biggest reasons I've found is that they're free to simply ask questions. My wellness plans, like most others in the market, offer unlimited visits (aka "healthcare examinations") during office hours. And clients take advantage of that benefit. Some just need a little education about what's normal for their breed. They can make an appointment without worrying about paying for the office call; it's already part of the package. And, of course, the more they visit, the more tightly bonded to the practice they become.

Clients love the plans for other reasons as well. Wellness packages allow pet owners to spread out the costs of pet healthcare and accommodate their own financial cycle. Also, they can provide savings on some urgent care needs. For example, if a client hasn't used a preventive laboratory test or radiograph service in a given year and the pet experiences an acute problem, the wellness plan benefit can be used for the pet's immediate diagnosis and treatment needs.

The benefits to a veterinary practice are numerous as well. One major plus is that wellness packages help offset the seasonality of our business cycle. These plans include comprehensive exams, which you can schedule during slower times, such as the post-holiday period in January and February, when clients are otherwise less likely to come into your practice. During the comprehensive exam, patients may present with other medical issues that can be resolved on the same visit. Any client reluctance to pay for additional services is usually softened with discounts, ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent depending on the plan. This helps the pet and boosts hospital revenue. Strategically scheduling these exams can even help a hospital avoid layoffs in slow seasons.

The real power of these plans is evident when many clients sign up. Let's say a 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, and they think that discounts are inherently harmful to a practice. While it's true that in most plans the total medical value of all services is discounted about 40 percent to 50 percent, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, in some cases, clients don't use all the included services. At my practice, up to 40 percent of clients on plans don't take advantage of all the care in a year's time—even though we call to remind them. This mitigates the discount considerably.

Second, even if a client brings the patient in for recommended medical care, the cost of goods is small. Other than lab tests, most wellness items are services, resulting in a lower cost of goods sold for the practice.