Wellness vs. preventive healthcare
Recently, we've seen and heard a great deal about prepaid medical care plans in individual veterinary practices as well as
at large corporate practices such as Banfield. The Bayer Veterinary Usage Study indicated that a prepaid medical plan allowing
pet owners to budget a portion of their pet care would likely stimulate greater utilization of veterinary services. We're
seeing a significant interest in prepaid plans, and there will likely be a real increase in client interest if we market and
position the plans correctly. Of course, one of the first things that has resulted in a degree of division and confusion within
the industry is what we'll call these plans.
It appears that "wellness plans" have the inside track—that's what Banfield calls them. Purina calls its new program a wellness
plan, too. Some practices that have or are developing internal plans have called them wellness programs. And yet the most
visible professional organization addressing the issue of increasing veterinary care use has decided to call them preventive
healthcare plans. Seems a bit like we are doing the old "You say tomato" routine. But if you really consider the product,
the service and the role we play as the providers, the name becomes more significant and the best choice more clear. Wellness
is a state of health. Healthy is something you are or aren't, but it's not a product with a result. At the same time, preventive
healthcare is a product or service you purchase with the end goal being a result—wellness. So no matter how a plan is structured,
it provides healthcare with the purpose of preventing disease and resulting in wellness. Most pets are in a state of wellness.
What would a client do to improve what the pet already has? What we want clients to do is to protect their pet's health and
maintain their wellness with preventive healthcare services.
Consumer vs. customer vs. client
We've all had an unpleasant airline experience—rude ticket agents, uncaring flight attendants and baggage handlers determined
to destroy the indestructible. I've flown almost 4 million miles and watched the passenger experience decline into a customer
relationship. Once we decide to fly a particular carrier, we have a few expectations. A safe flight, an on-time flight, a
fairly priced flight—we used to expect a nice meal, no more. We used to expect a pleasant flight crew, now the experience
is nothing to write home about. Some airlines are considering implementing for-pay toilets to go along with luggage fees and
$7 cans of beer. Over the years, we've become customers with few (if any) purchasing options.
The veterinary industry has fallen into this same pit—we sacrifice client interaction for the customer transaction. But unlike
with air travel, consumers have many opportunities to obtain veterinary care, purchase products and get information. Don't
you want them to come to you first?
Although we generally refer to people as "our clients," increasingly we treat them like customers, and the services and products
we offer have become commodities. A client may be a customer, but the client-veterinarian interaction is much more likely
to be professional advice or services-based—a personal interaction rather than a transaction. It's more relationship-based
and so much more likely to be valued by both provider and client.
In order for us to communicate more clearly with each other, our veterinary teams and our clients, we need to choose our words
carefully. This will ensure pets are getting the care they need and help us build strong relationships with the owners who
love and care for them.
Dr. Paul is a veterinary consultant, a nationally known speaker and a columnist. He is the Principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting.
He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.