While it’s clear that market forces make now the ideal time for veterinary practices to embrace modern-day wellness plan programs, doing so without a well-considered strategy can be a recipe for lackluster results — rather than success.

What do the practices that reap results from wellness plan programs do differently? To dig into this question, we turned to Jessica Lee, a 20-year industry veteran with a broad background with wellness plans. Lee, a certified veterinary practice manager, launched her career managing large practices in three states, before shifting to an advisory role with Brakke Consulting, and later opening her own veterinary solutions enterprise. Three years ago, she joined VCP, the veterinary industry’s leading wellness plan management solution.

We sat down with Lee for an extended chat about implementing wellness plan programs. In this lightly edited interview, she outlined lessons from the field, including the work culture and mindset that spells success.

I’m curious, given your experience, what’s the most significant factor in a wellness plan program that veterinarians might not consider?

I’d say it’s common for veterinary practices not to realize that a wellness plan program is an initiative that will enable them to practice more comprehensive preventive medicine. As such, it needs time and consideration to make it all that it can be for the practice — and to have the impact to drive growth in revenue, clients, client visits, and quality of care.

It isn’t just about throwing together a bunch of services and attaching a price to that bundle. Instead, a wellness plan program is a business strategy. It’s a new way of thinking. It demands you think about marketing, team training, and building plans into the fabric and culture of the practice. Frequently, the right partner helps practices to master this mind-shift, and streamlines the implementation process.

Can you talk more about this mind-shift? What’s a specific area where veterinary practices must think differently?

For example, veterinarians should do everything possible to ensure their clients use all of the services in their wellness plan program. This may seem counterintuitive, but when veterinary practices fail to do this, clients often don’t see the value of the plans. The chances of them renewing decline.

Renewals are veterinary practices’ bread and butter. Without a high renewal rate, your program won’t grow exponentially. Setting up plans to auto-renew, unless the pet owner indicates otherwise, is a great way to start to drive higher renewal rates. To encourage the use of all of the plan services, veterinarians need to book appointments in advance. Doing so plays a crucial role in retaining clients.

When the client is there for an exam, schedule the next six-month exam before they leave. If you don’t get it on the books right away, you’ll be chasing them down to come in and use their services before the plan ends. And if available, use an appointment reminder system to notify your wellness pets of their upcoming visits.

It’s not a moneymaker when clients don’t use all of the services. Instead, clients are less happy and the veterinary practice isn’t as profitable as it could be.

What else might a veterinary practice not expect?

A simple thing, like the appointment flow, is going to change, as well as the way they interact with their clients. For example, plans are built around bi-annual exams, meaning you’ll be seeing a patient twice a year that before you were seeing once a year for wellness — if you were lucky.

The additional visit is the ideal time to promote pet health. Veterinarians can educate owners on nutrition, behavior, breed-specific diseases, and more. This depth of education is what pet owners say they’re seeking in survey after survey. Wellness plan programs position the practice to become the source for all things related to pets.

We’ve talked a lot about the necessary mind-shift and some of the surprises related to wellness plan programs. Can you describe an example where a veterinary practice embraced changing the way they practiced? What happened?

When a veterinary practice embraces wellness plans, they’re so excited to offer the benefit to their clients that plans fly off of the shelves. I’ve seen practices achieve an enrollment of 20% to 30% in wellness plans within the first two years. That’s typically a mix of new and existing clients. A practice’s enthusiasm can be contagious, and the clients get excited too.

The reality is most pet owners want to do what’s best for their pet — but they don’t always know what their pets need. With wellness plans, you’re telling them, “This is what we recommend for Max. This is the very best course of preventive care you can provide for him.” That’s reassuring to clients.

Enthusiasm often catches on, taking on a life of its own, and before you know it, a practice has 200 plans in the first six months. Soon, clients are referring family and friends.

I worked closely with a practice that told me that the new recurring revenues they’d gained after six months of offering plans had enabled them to invest in a dental radiology system. They hadn’t been able to do that before launching their wellness plan program.

Next week, we continue our conversation with Lee. She’ll explain how veterinarians have overcome implementation roadblocks by gaining doctor buy-in and standardizing pet care protocols.

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