When corporate giant Mars bought the animal hospital chain Veterinary Centers of America in 2017 for $9 billion, the deal shocked some, but it shouldn’t have. Spending on pet healthcare is a multi-billion dollar business and growing.

Still, for many, the business image of pet wellness plans remains stuck in the past.

“For a while, there was a bit of a stigma around wellness plans, and even now, sometimes there is,” notes Bob Richardson, president of VCP, a leading veterinary solution revolutionizing how wellness plan programs drive compliance, increase practice revenue, and build client relationships.

The lingering attitude represents a missed opportunity for veterinary practices. In our last post, we described the growing consumer demand behind pet wellness plan programs and outlined key differences between the plans of yesterday and today. This post chronicles historic barriers to pet wellness plan programs, then charts a path forward.

Moving past the history of pet wellness

Well-run pet wellness plan programs address two key issues identified in a revealing 2011 veterinary care usage study by Bayer HealthCare Animal Health. The study found pet owners were not only shocked by unexpectedly high bills for veterinary services, the owners also failed to recognize the value of routine pet care services. Respondents cited both of these factors to explain declining veterinary service spending.

While most veterinarians embrace wellness protocols and may offer “packages,” practices have traditionally been slow to address the preference of respondents in the Bayer study for monthly payment programs. In some cases, practices tried doing wellness plans without any help from a wellness program solution provider and ran into significant challenges as the program grew. Initial wellness plans were treated more like bundled discounts rather than strategic business opportunities.

The Bayer study results weren’t a flash in the pan. Five years later, a survey of 3,000 pet owners who’d used a wellness program for at least a year found a similar set of results. Close to half of respondents cited affordable monthly payments as the chief benefit of the plan. Nearly as many, four in 10, said they most valued the peace of mind of giving their pet the very best care.

A culture shift in pet wellness

Still, ramping up a wellness plan solution in an existing full-service practice requires not only a shift in practice culture, it demands new skills of veterinary employees with varied backgrounds and education levels, explains Richardson.

“The broader issues for a well-run wellness program revolved around the Business of Wellness concepts,” Richardson notes. “Practices often wrestle with marketing strategies, doctor and staff buy-in, managing missed payments, and tracking progress against goals. They start with the Practice of Wellness (how to set up plans, integrate with the PMS, etc.), but quickly realize that a well-run program needs the Business of Wellness addressed.”

Without the right tools, he adds, veterinary practices often see mixed results compared to their peers.

“We have found that if a practice wrestles with a program for three to six months, they typically stop focusing on the program, often thinking, ‘My customers don’t want wellness,’” Richardson says. That sentiment runs contrary to on-the-ground data from successful pet wellness plan programs.

Next, we’ll look at veterinary practices where pet wellness spending now accounts for nearly one-third of revenue.

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