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How Can Pet Insurance Help Us Grow Our Veterinary Business?

Posted in Client Service @ Jun 14th 2017 - By Dr Deborah Shores, veterinarian & Guest Blogger for 'Top 10 Pet Insurance'
How Can Pet Insurance Help Us To Grow Our Veterinary Business

Research among pet owners by the North American Pet Health Insurance Association indicated that 50% more would purchase pet health insurance if their veterinary practice actively recommended it.

You know the story.  A new client walks in your doors with a new Christmas puppy.  The puppy may be a purebred Yorkshire terrier or a shelter rescue with big floppy ears and gigantic paws. They’re in to see you and to learn how to best care for their new furry family member.

You and your staff go through the usual….heartworm prevention education, vaccines, deworming and you may have a 'puppy pack' prepared for them to take home-containing pamphlets on housetraining, puppy kindergarten classes, oral hygiene items...but, do you talk about pet insurance?

Most of us will answer no.

Why?

For most veterinarians, pet insurance is an afterthought or completely forgotten.  Many of us have brochures from pet insurance companies gathering dust on the shelves in our exam rooms or waiting rooms.

Even if we have the brochures on display, how many of our clients readily reach for these brochures? Do you even have them sitting out?

Pet insurance can be life-saving, pure and simple.  It can also reduce our stress  – making it easier to focus on helping the pet get well and not on the finances.  

Most of us have not embraced how pet insurance can benefit our bottom line and enhance the care that we give our patients.   It is time to make a change.

What’s in it for me?

As veterinarians, there are many advantages to promoting pet insurance. While we don’t get paid directly by the pet insurance companies, encouraging our clients to pursue pet insurance can be good for our bottom line.  Let’s take a look at how much we can benefit:

1. An increase in number of visits

According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), pet owners with insurance had an average of 2.1 visits to the veterinarian per year in comparison to those without insurance visiting about 1.4 times a year.

Easy arithmetic: more visits = more revenue. 

2. Earn more for services per visit

We should always offer our clients the best medical care we can provide, regardless of cost. Lay it all out…the bloodwork costs, the radiology costs, etc.

It is up to the owner to decide what they can or cannot afford. We then guide them to make the best decision for their pet within the confines of their budget.  

Pet parents that have insurance are more likely to say YES to your best medical plan.  This in turn is best for the pet and brings in the most revenue.

The proof is in the pudding. In 2016, the AVMA reported that “for pets with insurance, the mean annual health care expenses paid [by pet owners] were $324 per dog and $264 per cat, compared with $251 and $146, respectively, in expenses paid for pets without insurance.”

3. Practice Our Best Medicine

Every veterinarian has had those hard-luck cases where we have to cut corners to reduce costs.

Sometimes they do just fine while others end in tragedy – there is simply not enough money to diagnose and treat.  Insured clients means less heartache, fewer cut corners and easier conversations about treatment costs.

Meet Izzy

Several years ago, I met a 6-month old Yorkshire terrier named Izzy on an emergency call. She had fallen down the stairs and fractured her humerus. After radiographs and basic care, she was referred to a local surgical specialist. The fracture was surgically repaired and Izzy made a complete recovery.

Lucky for her, her owners had purchased an Accident + Illness policy when she was 10 weeks old, so the waiting period had long past.  Her owner was not concerned much about the cost of Izzy’s care, as he was confident that the pet insurance would cover most if not all of his costs.

It was easy for me to fill out his claim forms and sign them. My reception staff printed copies of his invoices, medical record and all I had to do was sign.  I was happy to do so. I got paid for the services I offered and he got reimbursed for Izzy’s care.  Izzy’s surgery at the specialist was also covered.

This is the kind of 'feel-good story' that we want for ALL our patients. While we did not perform fracture repair at our after-hours ER, Izzy could have easily been referred to you. If you offer basic and more advanced surgical services, even as a GP, promoting pet insurance can potentially put you in theatre more often.  Surgery is the ‘biggest-ticket item’ in any practice and can really make a difference in your income.

Where do I start?

1. Hold annual training sessions on pet insurance education and promotion for the entire team

2. Designate one or two staff members as your “pet insurance specialists”

  • Get your friendliest techs on board for this job.
  • Assign these techs to new puppy/kitten visits and new client consultations
  • Talking about pet insurance should only take a couple of minutes. The talk can happen while you are performing your physical exam.
  • Promote pet insurance as part and parcel of responsible pet ownership.

3. At the end of every consultation, ask “do you need any pet insurance paperwork signed?”

4. Offer a new convenient service: submit claims to the insurance company for your client.

5. Dust off your brochures and place them in easily seen areas of your waiting room.

You have them already, might as well put them out!

6. Add a pet insurance page to your Website and/or include links to good online resources.

Top 10 Pet Insurance is an independent site on pet insurance, with an excellent pet insurance primer for pet owners and a regularly updated comparison of pet insurance prices and benefits.

7. Feature a pet insurance company once a month on your Facebook page

Some pet insurance companies, like PetPlan, hire veterinarians to write reputable blog content on their company website. Check out some of these articles and feature one or two a month on social media.

8. Place information about pet insurance on your phone answering message.

9. Include pet insurance brochures or a home-printed card in your puppy and kitten gift packs. 

Don’t give out puppy or kitten gift packs?  They are inexpensive and provide a wealth of reputable pet care information for your clients. Plus, who doesn’t like a free gift?

How to guide your clients:  What’s worth buying

It is extremely important for owners to purchase pet insurance as early in their pet’s life as possible. It is almost impossible to get coverage for an animal over the age of 8, the likelihood of pre-existing conditions means that policies issued to older animals will have numerous exclusions.

Owners of purebred pets need to be careful and read the fine print when buying pet insurance. Certain 'breed specific' problems are not covered and pet insurance companies tend to interpret these very liberally. 

Owners need to know that the best 'bang for their buck' will be in buying an Accident + Illness policy.  Accident-only tends to be too limited on coverage and Comprehensive gives very little incremental benefits.

If you offer ER or surgical services in your practice, promoting Accident + Illness will be beneficial to your business.

For serious accidents (think 'hit by a car' cases) – most people don’t have an 'emergency fund' of cash socked away for their pets.  Pet insurance can help bridge the gap for people who could not otherwise afford potentially life-saving surgery. Pet insurance smooths out their expenses. Many prefer pay $40-50 a month and not having to worry about the shock of a large bill, even if they can afford it.

While pet owners have to pay you up-front for services and then submit a claim, more owners say ‘yes’ to treatment plans knowing that their pet insurance will reimburse them in a timely manner. In my experience, the insurance companies do.  

Any questions for Deborah? Ask them in the Comments section below.

        

About Deborah

Deborah Shores, DVM, is an American Veterinarian and a 2008 graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science, minor in Chemistry, from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, USA.

In the last 9 years, Dr. Shores has worked as a clinical veterinarian for dogs, cats, small mammals and non-human primates (macaque monkeys) and as a freelance writer. She has also taught anatomy and physiology as an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort.

Her passion is educating animal lovers about pet care and common animal diseases. She currently has two mischievous tabby cats, Hummer and Piper. Both cats are also world travelers and enjoy basking in the warm afternoon sun.

For  more information on 'Top 10 Pet Insurance' check out their page in the Vetanswers Business Directory

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