By Don Jergler
Meghan Bingham, CVPM, has been with West Alabama Animal Clinic in Houston since 1996, when it was a one-doctor practice. In the past 20 years it’s grown to a nine-doctor practice with a staff of 45. While growing a clinic was a big part of the practice manager’s focus, Bingham decided to spur grow elsewhere: heartworm and flea preventative compliance.
A few years ago she realized that only 31 percent of dogs seen were protected against heartworm year-round, 43 percent were partially protected and 26 percent of their client’s dogs were completely unprotected.
Her answer? A bundle-and-save package.
She grouped five different weight classes and priced them so if a client bought six months of flea preventative they’d essentially get six months of heartworm preventative for just a few dollars more.
As of 2016, 42 percent of dogs seen were protected against heartworms for 12 months, 35 percent were protected for at least six months against heartworms and 23 percent were protected less than six months against heartworms.
Last year she negotiated a lower price for heartworm tests and started offering a free heartworm test with the purchase of 12 months of heartworm preventative.
She spoke with Veterinary Practice News about how the clinic’s program works.
Veterinary Practice News: Tell us about your plan to improve compliance.
Meghan Bingham: The idea came from wanting to provide clients with complete, affordable coverage for their pets. Our sales showed that clients were spending their money on flea preventive literally at the expense of protecting their dogs against heartworms.
With our package deal, 76 percent of pets visiting the clinic for wellness exams leave our clinic protected against heartworms and fleas.
Describe the difficulties in getting pet owners to take the parasite battle seriously.
MB: Clients have limited funds, and quality preventatives are expensive. It’s our job to educate them enough to believe that the prescription products we recommend are better than anything they can get at the grocery store. We also know that clients spend money on flea preventive because fleas are gross and you can see them, whereas getting them to care about heartworm preventative is a little more challenging. We priced the packages so that clients could chose whatever preventatives they were most likely to administer regularly, with flat pricing. You want to give a heartworm chew and a topical flea? Great. You want to give a six-month heartworm injection and an oral flea preventative? That’s great, too. Now clients are picking preventatives not based on price but based on what’s easiest for them, and that’s a huge part of compliance.
How has the program benefited your clinic?
MB: Our packages are priced so that clients pay about $20 for six months of heartworm preventive. Of course, clients are free to purchase heartworm preventive without flea preventive and vice versa. However, if they purchase one preventive without the other, they pay full markup retail. The package deal is a no-brainer. Our receptionists no longer feel guilty talking about pricing. Our PetMeds requests have decreased dramatically, and we still offer manufacturer rebates, which makes it an even better deal for our clients.
Our clinic compliance numbers continue to grow, as do our profits. We’re practicing better medicine and making money—it’s a win-win. Our heartworm/flea preventative sales are already 121 percent of where we were last year at this time. Our profit may be lower per package, but the volume more than makes up for it. Plus, the markup for clients purchasing only heartworm or flea preventatives helps make up some of the difference.
Why should practice managers have an interest in increasing compliance?
MB: Protecting pets against parasites is the right thing to do. Clients appreciate the value of the package deal and can see that we really are trying to help them help their pets, and not just make a sale. We took a risk on a lower profit margin that continues to pay off in more ways than one.
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!