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The truth about pet healthcare plans

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01 April 2013, at 12:00am

MATTHEW PYKE of Lloyd & Whyte Group looks at some of the myths surrounding healthcare plans for pets, explains how they differ from pet insurance and how they can be of benefit

LAST year saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of pet healthcare plans at veterinary practices. However, there is still a level of ambiguity among practice owners and managers about what a plan actually is, and whether it will work.

While your decision to implement a pet healthcare plan will rest on your own knowledge of your business, we hope the following myth-busting facts will give you all the information you need to make that decision in confidence.

Myth 1: It’s the same as pet insurance

Truth: A pet healthcare plan is most definitely not an insurance policy. A pet healthcare plan is an annual package of treatments and discounts offered by a vet practice to a customer who pays a monthly fee. Pet insurance, on the other hand, is a policy which provides a financial reimbursement to the pet owner after treatment has taken place.

A plan focuses on preventive care through regular treatments where insurance provides a benefit once treatment has been administered.

The benefit of the plan to a practice is that it can improve customer loyalty and generate a regular income stream. The benefit to customers is that they can improve the health of their pets and spread the cost over 12 months.

Myth 2: It might work in other practices, but my customers wouldn’t join a plan

Truth: Have you asked them?

Approaching the subject of bills can be sensitive with some owners. Some may not feel it’s necessary if they have insurance for their pets but you won’t know until you ask. Talk to your regular customers. They’ll be able to tell you what their concerns are and how interested they would be in a plan.

It’s important to realise that your customers do not buy the plan; they buy the preventive care that the plan provides.

This is the difference between the features of the plan (i.e. the worming, neutering, etc.) and the benefits of the plan (the improved health and wellbeing of the pet).

Myth 3: They take too much time and money to set up and administer

Truth: It is true that the success of a plan is somewhat dependent on how committed you and your staff are to it. You have to believe it will work or it won’t.

Choosing a plan provider is really important at this point. The provider will take care of the administration of the plan (the collection of direct debits, etc.), and will provide training to your staff.

Most providers also provide some promotional material as well as guidance on launching and continued marketing of your plan.

The cost of a plan will vary depending on providers. Some charge percentages based on the number of customers who join the plan while others have a fixed monthly fee. You’ll also find that some providers charge an initial fee which covers the cost of setting the plan up while others don’t charge any set-up fees at all.

Depending on your practice, you may feel more comfortable choosing a plan that doesn’t cost you anything until you have customers signed up.

Your plan provider will also be able to tell you how long it takes to set up a plan from the time you sign their agreement to launch.

Myth 4: I’ll lose money through offering discounts within the plan.

Truth: The treatments and discounts you offer in your plan are entirely up to you but it’s worth remembering that the discounts are there as an incentive for your customers.

By offering a discount, on food for example, you are not only encouraging sign-ups but customers are also more likely to buy the products at a discount than at full price.

Making it work

There is no reason why a pet healthcare plan wouldn’t work at any practice. The key is to work with your provider and your customers to develop a plan that your customers want and that you feel confident in.

Choose a provider you trust and who will help you not just launch your plan but who gives you continued support.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions and to ask for support. Your plan provider has a vested interest in making your plan a success as well.