Last week, we began an in-depth conversation with Jessica Lee, a veterinary industry pro who’s widely recognized as a wellness plan expert. As VCP’s director of veterinary solutions, she’s seen firsthand how missteps can sabotage a well-run wellness plan program. Today, she helps VCP’s clients avoid these pitfalls as a wellness plan program coach.

In this lightly edited interview with Lee, she outlines common stumbling blocks that can hamper the implementation of an effective wellness plan program, such as too little time, undefined pet-care protocols, and skepticism from veterinary practice staff.

Let’s start by talking about time. Why do veterinarians need to budget time for a new wellness plan program?

Time is a significant factor. Time becomes an issue because many veterinary practices have multiple large initiatives going on at once. They may be stretched for time to devote to planning, preparing, and training. A wellness plan program touches on all aspects of the practice and impacts everyone — meaning there’s a lot to do.

Like what?

Practices need to make a series of decisions before rolling out a wellness plan program. This includes:

  • Coming up with standardized preventive-care protocols
  • Determining pricing
  • Deciding how they’re going to manage the plans and track usage
  • Setting goals and metrics for success
  • Potentially creating new codes in their practice management software
  • Generating client service contracts
  • Learning and understanding the difference between recurring billing versus recurring payments
  • Planning how the practice will handle missed payments
  • Developing marketing materials and marketing initiatives
  • Training the team on technical aspects of selling the plan, including the “why” behind the wellness plan program

This is often where a partner like VCP can spell the difference between success and failure. For example, without a proactive renewal strategy, veterinarians may not realize that their renewal rate will likely fall in the industry norm of about 50% to 60%. At this rate, their wellness plan program will quickly stagnate, rather than grow.

How are a lack of consistent preventive care protocols a roadblock? How have veterinary practices overcome this challenge?

I see this more in larger practices, usually when the practice doesn’t have written standards of care. The good news is it’s an opportunity to solidify and build consistency in standards of care.

I worked with a practice with several doctors, where each doctor had for years followed their own preventive care protocols and made different recommendations. When the owners decided to offer wellness plans, the decision created some conflict at first. However, the upside was the decision got everyone to sit down, present their case, and come to an agreement on core recommendations.

Every doctor felt heard and involved in the process, so that when it came time to offer the plans, everyone was on board. Involving doctors was key to buy-in. This way, everyone bought into the concept, and with the addition of optional services, they could customize the plan for each patient based on lifestyle and the particular pet’s needs, so that all needs were met.

Let’s stay on this topic. What’s been your experience with staff or veterinarians who exhibit reluctance or hesitancy about a new wellness plan program? What should veterinary practices do in these cases?

This issue boils down to education. Once staff and associates understand the value to the pet and the pet owner, they don’t need much convincing that wellness plan programs are a good thing.

Educating them means they need to be kept in the loop throughout the process. It’s vital to frame everything in the context of benefits to pets: improving care, increasing compliance, and making each pet an exclusive member of the practice.

As with anything that requires change, there can be push back. If the team believes in what you are doing, it will make your program work. If the team doesn’t, it will go nowhere.

A common issue I’ve seen is when plans offer a small discount and doctors are paid on production. Often, there’s an initial concern that production pay will drop. In fact, the exact opposite happens. Overall, doctors are performing more services in the plan, because compliance is improved, and clients agree to additional services outside of the plan more readily.

Do specific examples come to mind where the staff was initially resistant to a wellness plan program?

There was a practice where one of the associates didn’t wish to participate. Well, within a month she’d shifted her attitude about the plans. She saw the other doctors were able to run diagnostic panels and perform other services on wellness-plan pets. She soon realized that not only was it better medicine, but her production would also rise as a result.

Often, practices can overcome staff resistance by creating goals and celebrating success. Although I don’t recommend individual sales incentives, because you want multiple people involved in educating the client, team incentives can be a driver, especially in the beginning until a habit has been formed.

For example, if running a diagnostic panel on a wellness-plan pet detects disease early, share that with everyone. Celebrate your team’s successes and your pets’ good health.

We’ve covered a lot of ground today describing how veterinary practices can avoid surprises that could undermine the success of a wellness plan program. Next week, we’ll debunk three common myths about wellness plan programs.

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