Episode 4 | Reimagining Pet Health Plans

author

Jack Peploe
Veterinary IT Expert
April 6, 2021

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In this week’s episode

  • Does your practice have a Pet Helth Plan? When was the last time you critically analysed your offering and made a change?  Sometimes reimagining the services you offer can be key to growing your practice.  If this sounds like something you might consider then this episode is for you…
  • The Managing Director of Pennard Vets, Matthew Flann, talks to Jack about all things Pet Health Plans and why they've made the brave (and very successful) move to include ALL consultations in theirs. 
  • Matthew also briefly touches on the incredible decision to become an Employee Owned Trust.
  • Plus on the show this week, a fantastic ‘tech tip’ from Jack on how to successfully outsource the jobs your don't have the time (or the skills) to do.

 

Show Notes

  • Out every other week on your favourite podcast platform
  • Presented by Jack Peploe: Veterinary IT Expert, Certified Ethical Hacker and dog Dad to the adorable Puffin.
  • Jack introduced Fiverr, an online marketplace where you can find highly skilled freelancers from all over the world, enabling you to pay someone else to do the jobs you don't want to or don't have the capacity to do.
  • Jack’s special guest was Matthew Flann from Pennard Vets. They talked about Pet Health Clubs, and the incredible change that Pennard Vets made to their offering which triggered huge uptake. 
  • Many thanks to Vet Dynamics' Alan Robinson for recommending the following books "The Road Less Travelled" by M. Scott Peck, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey and "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk.
  • In our next episode Jack will be joined by Behavioural Psychologist Andy Edwards, who will be talking to us about change and leadership in the veterinary sector.
  • Please send any questions, ideally in audio-form (or any other feedback) to jack@veterinaryit.services.

Transcription

Jack Peploe:

Coming up on Modern Veterinary Practice.

Matthew Flann:

One of the things we struggle with in the vet industry is actually charging for our time or having the confidence to charge for our time. That's a massive psychological barrier for a lot of vets, of actually recognizing that your time is worth money.

Matthew Flann:

While we're building up that confidence, that psychology in vets, while we're doing that with our young graduates and our teams, almost at the same time, I'm saying to our leadership team, "Look, guys. It'd be a great idea if we didn't charge for any consults up front in the pet health club."

Jack Peploe:

Welcome to Modern Veterinary Practice. I'm your host and veterinary IT expert Jack Peploe. In this week's episode, I'll be talking to Matthew Flann from Pennard Vets about pet health clubs.

Jack Peploe:

I'll also introduce you to Fiverr, an online marketplace for freelancers, where you can find everything you need to outsource the jobs that you just don't have the time and, let's face it, skills to do. This is a total game changer. We should know. We use it all the time.

Jack Peploe:

One of the goals of this podcast is to help drive efficiencies into your veterinary practice. I've got a great suggestion of a platform that can help do just this. The platform is called Fiverr. It's a marketplace full of highly skilled freelancers from all over the world.

Jack Peploe:

It works by enabling you to pay in advance for jobs, or gigs in Fiverr's terms, in replacement for a digital service such as WordPress design, writing services, transcriptions, to even voiceover work.

Jack Peploe:

In fact, a large proportion of our marketing is produced by freelance professionals on the Fiverr platform, from the design of our eBooks that are full of lots of insightful knowledge, such as considerations when choosing a PMS, to our telemedicine comparison guides, as well as the designs of our fantastic veterinary IT services website.

Jack Peploe:

Just for this podcast alone, I work with multiple experts, from the audio editor who somehow makes me even sound presentable, to the designer who creates our artwork for each episode.

Jack Peploe:

I suppose what I'm getting at here is that without these multitude of experts around me, there's no way I could produce such high quality stuff. I simply just do not have the skills to do it. I definitely do not have the time. This frees me up to work on what I should be working on, enabling and assisting my clients in developing their technology and their business, rather than faffing on something that I'm not skilled to do and will take me triple the time.

Jack Peploe:

The Fiverr platform can be used in so many different ways within your veterinary practice. One example is that you could share the raw content of a blog or eBook with a copywriter that can format it in a way that your clients could better understand. You could then share this content with a graphic designer who could put it in a visually appealing format, such as a digital eBook, which then, of course, you could print.

Jack Peploe:

You could even find someone to create you some engaging hold music for your phone system, to educate your clients on your pet health club to increase awareness. If you wanted to be ultra creative, you could even hire a virtual assistant that could take some of the lower priority or even manually intensive tasks away from you, freeing you up to focus on developing the veterinary practice.

Jack Peploe:

There is one word of warning, though. It may take some time to find the people that you work best with. My suggestion is that, every time you're doing something for the first time, e.g. you might be putting together a new puppy owners pack, send a detailed brief of what you want across to at least three people you'd like on the Fiverr platform. The chances are at least one of them will come back with something you like. You can then add them to your favorites list, and you know next time, if you need something similar, you have just the person who understands, and you know the quality of their work.

Jack Peploe:

As I've mentioned, this is a clever platform, but it's not the only one out there. However, it is a platform me and my marketing team work with and can definitely recommend, so do check it out.

Voiceover Artist:

The interview.

Matthew Flann:

Hi. Good morning. It's Matthew Flann here. I am the Managing Director at Pennard Vets. We're a practice in Kent. We've recently become employee owned, which is very exciting.

Matthew Flann:

I'm a vet myself with 20 years experience. My personal journey into the leadership world was through managing the branch I was in many years ago, and gradually doing more and more. Then eventually I stepped into the shoes of the previous partner who was leading the practice. I currently run the practice with my two colleagues, Andy Green and Caroline Collins.

Jack Peploe:

Cool. Matt, really great to have you on the show. Can I start by congratulating you and Pennard Vets on becoming an employee owned trust? That is a serious feat in its own and obviously wasn't meant to be a topic that I was going to be talking about today. In fairness, the topic itself deserves its very own podcast episode, so I might have to get you back on, but can I ask you quickly what drove you to go down the employee-owned route?

Matthew Flann:

It's a really interesting question. It's really quite complex, in all honesty. It's something that we thought about for quite a while, and really actively pursued from maybe a couple of years ago.

Matthew Flann:

My feeling, as a vet, is that we've always worked in teams. Clinically, you're on the ground. You work as a team. You help each other out. The most efficient teams are the ones that look after each other, in all honesty.

Matthew Flann:

As we've grown in size in the practice, and as we get more and more employees, or team members, in reality, it was harder and harder to have that connection. So it became more and more important really that we should maintain those values.

Matthew Flann:

We started asking questions about it. We were hitting brick walls quite a lot of the time, so we had to go on a journey of discovery ourselves. The more we looked into it, the more we learned about it, the more we wanted to do it.

Jack Peploe:

Yeah. I think it's actually fantastic. Again, massive congratulations. What an exciting time to be at Pennard Vets.

Matthew Flann:

Thank you.

Jack Peploe:

If possible today, I really wanted to talk to you about pet health plans. For me, as someone who works in the veterinary industry, but who ultimately is from a different vertical, I'm very familiar with subscription models, as it's very much the foundation of my business model.

Jack Peploe:

Ultimately, subscriptions drive convenience and peace of mind, if set up correctly, as you know, ultimately, what you're spending and what you're getting. In fact, we, as individuals, are surrounded by subscriptions now with things like Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, to name but few. These subscriptions are only getting more popular and well known, especially during the pandemic.

Jack Peploe:

Back to health plans, and indeed almost back to basics. I personally have my own dog, or dogs, I should say, and obviously can see the benefits, for me, from a consumer's perspective, but why is it that you feel these plans are so beneficial for vets?

Matthew Flann:

In all honesty, it helps us do the right thing and to do it easily. It lowers the barriers, if you like, for ... The phrase, which I hate, actually ... I hate the phrase of gold standard care, but that's what we used to use in the days when we got it off the ground, was that we wanted to give the clients an easy way to access the type of care that we provide for our own pets ourselves, as vets and nurses and team members.

Matthew Flann:

Good flea and worm control, regularly done, and just great service, and blood tests for older patients. All of us in practice were routinely doing older age blood tests for our own animals, our own pets. But for some particular reason, we didn't think we would do it all the time for our patients that we're looking after.

Matthew Flann:

That's why we put that on the plan, for example, for the seniors, which was against the grain at the time. It was against the advice, but we wanted to treat our client's pets like we treat our own.

Jack Peploe:

No. That's actually great. It's interesting, because you didn't mention anything about financial, which is really interesting. But obviously, I'd imagine that pet health plans are obviously a win-win situation with regards to bringing in consistent monthly recurring revenue for a veterinary practice, and for your patients who perhaps receive more consistent preventative health care. Have you noticed a difference in the health of your patients as a result?

Matthew Flann:

Yes. We have. In terms of the actual health of our patients is more anecdotal, I would say, rather than evidence-based.

Jack Peploe:

Yeah.

Matthew Flann:

I think there are lots of studies out there now to show the financial benefits of pet health clubs, both on the preventable side of medicine, and also on the actual sickness spend as well, if you like.

Matthew Flann:

We get a lot more engagement with clients when they sign up to the pet health club. The actual number of times they come into the practice in the year before they sign up compared to the year after they sign up is quite significant. It just means that they're better bonded with us, they're better connected, which can only help us care for their pets in a better way. They are more invested in the practice, if you like, as well. So that's very positive.

Matthew Flann:

I'm sorry, Jack. Have I answered that question, or have I just gotten off on a tangent?

Jack Peploe:

Yeah, no, no. You absolutely have. That was perfect.

Jack Peploe:

Okay. Going on to something that's, I would say, extremely unique about Pennard Vets, or one of the many things, I should say, is the fact that you offer consultation-inclusive health plans. Am I correct in thinking that you were one of the first to do this?

Matthew Flann:

Yes. I understand ... I think we were the third, perhaps, in the country to do it. I did speak to other people, to other practices first, to see how they were getting on. They were very positive with it. One of them was a large practice up in Scotland with multiple sites like us. Another was a smaller practice in London. They both spoke about it very favorably.

Matthew Flann:

So we weren't the first to jump into it. I did have to do some persuading internally within our leadership team, because one of the things we struggle with in the vet industry is actually charging for our time, or having the confidence to charge for our time.

Jack Peploe:

Yes.

Matthew Flann:

That's a massive psychological barrier for lots of vets, of actually recognizing that your time is worth money.

Jack Peploe:

Yes.

Matthew Flann:

So while we're building up that confidence, that psychology in vets, while we're doing that with our young graduates and our teams, almost at the same time, I'm saying to our leadership team, "Look, guys. It'd be a great idea if we didn't charge for any consults up front in the pet health club."

Matthew Flann:

In all honesty, that was one of the biggest psychological barriers we needed to overcome, but like a lot of these things, my gut feeling was that it was just absolutely the right thing to do on lots of fronts. It was a step into the unknown, and it was a big leap, because you had to get ... A lot of practices take an awful lot of their fees in as consults.

Jack Peploe:

Yeah.

Matthew Flann:

To all of a sudden have that diminished, and I think at the time, we were up to around 20% penetration of our active client base with the pet health clubs. So we weren't just talking about a couple hundred patients here. We were talking a couple thousand, I think, at that time. So it was interesting times.

Matthew Flann:

The reason why we believed it was such a good idea was that it was going to lower the barrier for entry into the practice. We were expecting to see patients much, much sooner in the illness in question, if you like.

Matthew Flann:

We've all been there where it's 5:00 on a Friday, and we get the phone call where the dog's been vomiting for a week. It's the weekend, and they say, "Oh, they are worried about it."

Matthew Flann:

We expect to see those types of cases two days earlier, or three days earlier. The diarrhea is two or three days earlier. I genuinely believe that we see fewer cases with advanced diarrhea, for example. All those bodies come in earlier, and we can head off the disease sooner.

Matthew Flann:

I suppose, from a financial point of view, there's less money spent on making the animals better, by is not great. But the reason we're vets is to keep pets healthy and to do the right thing. You've got to do the right thing. That's our job. That was a big, big factor, the driving force.

Matthew Flann:

The financial element, the subscription element to it, on the flip side, by doing the right thing, then the finances follow that. I'm very grateful that we've had pretty much 20 to 22% of our income is on subscription. I'm very grateful of that in the last 12 months, through COVID, because that has been a lot of help to us. I think the subscription model has been a lot of help to lots of practices across the country, those who have really invested in it. Yeah.

Jack Peploe:

Yeah, no. That's brilliant. Obviously, I'm totally sold by the idea. Actually, I'm going to check in with my vet to see if they offer something similar. But I'm wondering if you always get that kind of positive reaction. Do you come up with much resistance from clients? If so, how do you overcome it?

Matthew Flann:

To be honest with you, we don't have a huge amount of resistance, because I think so many of them realize how positive it is. I don't know the exact number, but often ... I'm not so comfortable with this idea, in all honesty, but some members of the team do say to clients, "Well, you just need to come in two or three times and it's paid for itself," kind of thing.

Matthew Flann:

But to be honest with you, clients mainly take it on because the value it offers, the value and the quality of service it offers, the access to us. They can come in at any time when they want, and for no reason. So things that are worrying them, they can come to us sooner about it. It's reassuring. It's peace of mind. It means we can do our job better.

Matthew Flann:

When we actually converted from ... Our pet health club has always been fairly substantial anyway, in terms of what we offered. We wanted it to be good, and we wanted it to actually offer the same type of care that we offered our own pets at home. I've got a dog. I've got dogs at home. I want to look after them properly. That's the kind of ethos we started with.

Matthew Flann:

So our older patients, after the age of eight, has always included blood tests, and urine and blood pressure, and things like that, which does make it more expensive. Clients know that. They accept it. They engage with us on those terms. So it's kind of the same thing. They know that they're getting great value with it.

Matthew Flann:

When we did the conversion from our normal pet health club onto unlimited consults, there was a price increase, a substantial one to pay for it. We got a reasonable number dropping off the plan at that stage. But at the same time, in the same month, we actually had more people join us than leave us, because they wanted it. So in that month of change over, we actually grew, which nobody thought would happen. There was that much desire from those clients who weren't on the pet health club, that they wanted to be part of it at that stage. That was really positive.

Jack Peploe:

Yeah, no. But it's not surprising, because ultimately you want the best for your animal. I don't know about you, but my attitude ... It's funny. It's the same thing I come up against, actually, on a regular basis, is that vets are very price-conscious. They're really wary about what they charge. Sometimes they almost avoid charging for things as well, I've noticed.

Jack Peploe:

It's bonkers, because, from my perspective as a pet owner myself, I'd pay anything for my animal. I love it to absolute bits. I would do absolutely everything for it. So to have that opportunity, where actually you're making my life easier in the sense that you're opening access to your team, to your expertise, to keep my animal well, so like you say, my dog can be treated earlier rather than me thinking, "Okay, well, I'm just going to leave it for a couple more days, because she's probably going to be okay" ... Rather than waste the vet's time, I actually know, actually, you've opened up the doors.

Jack Peploe:

Also from a budgeting point of view, it makes it very easy, because I know what I'm going to spend. There's no unpredictability there. So I think it's a brilliant idea. I'm really not surprised in the mass uptake.

Jack Peploe:

Obviously, from an owner perspective, it does sound great. Like I said, I'm very much sold by the idea. But I can imagine that, without the right tools, it might be a fair bit of admin for staff. How have you overcome this? Are there any tools that you'd recommend to manage the health plans themselves?

Matthew Flann:

Oh. It's a very good question. We've always had a third party collect our money for us, and all the sign up. We were with the same company, in fact, I suppose, technically, we still are with the same company, right from the beginning. That was important. That company has since been taken over by another company. So we're seeing how that goes.

Matthew Flann:

I needed that reassurance that that money was going to be collected properly. I didn't want our name being sullied, if you like, by any mistakes a third party would make. So that was important.

Matthew Flann:

In terms of tools within the practice, there was an awful lot of training going on in the early days. The more the team understood why it was good was really important.

Matthew Flann:

The first year we started it, the ... I have to say until, we actually put the consults into the pet health club, it was a vehicle for saving money, if that makes sense. That's how it was seen by the team a little bit. Not completely, but a little bit that way. That's, I think, how they found it easier to sell it to clients, if you like, or to advise clients on it, because they would save money.

Matthew Flann:

Since the consults have gone in, that's gone out the window a little bit, because if clients are coming in for 10 consults a year, you can't really add up and say that you're going to save so many hundreds of pounds, not easily. So it's actually about value, and it's about access to our expertise easily, in all honesty. So it's very much a value proposition nowadays. So the training around that, the tools the team have around that, in that respect, is very important.

Matthew Flann:

From my experience in terms of these things, I think there is definitely a tipping point in the culture of the practice, where it just becomes de facto that clients will be on the pet health club. It's more common for clients to be on the pet health club than not, if that makes sense.

Jack Peploe:

Yes.

Matthew Flann:

Once these things become part of the culture, then your battle's won. That goes with the pet health club, or that goes with other technology like PetsApp. We have a really high penetration of PetsApp within the practice. I think we've got 65% of our clients signed up to it, but that's a culture thing. It's the same with the pet health clubs.

Matthew Flann:

So to vaguely answer your question, I think the right tools in place is to have the right culture, which is a bit of a weaselly answer, but it's true actually. You have to have the right culture in place for the team to have the confidence to adopt new things.

Jack Peploe:

Yeah. Well, they have to believe in it, otherwise, they're not going to push it, are they, ultimately? Makes complete sense.

Matthew Flann:

Yeah.

Jack Peploe:

Finally, quick question. It may not be overly quick. As I mentioned at the start, I'm very familiar with subscription based models. We've obviously adapted our subscriptions in many different ways. Do you feel there are any other subscription opportunities within the veterinary space?

Matthew Flann:

Oh. It's a really good question, and one that excites me quite a lot, because we've talked within the practice about lots of other opportunities for subscription, but we haven't done anything with them at the moment.

Jack Peploe:

Okay.

Matthew Flann:

Primarily, we keep talking ourselves out of them. I'm yet to be convinced about other things. I think in a perfect world, we would go to a completely subscription model.

Jack Peploe:

Yes.

Matthew Flann:

I think that is where the future is. I just need to understand what that looks like though. I keep coming up with certain scenarios in my head. I've yet to be brave and talk to too many people about them, but we'll have to see.

Jack Peploe:

No. It all sounds really exciting, but Matt, what a great interview. Thank you so much for your time today.

Matthew Flann:

Thank you very much.

Voiceover Artist:

Recommended reading.

Jack Peploe:

Every week, we ask a veterinary professional to suggest a best business book for our listeners. This week's recommendation is from veterinary expert extraordinaire, Alan Robinson.

Alan Robinson:

That's a really, really difficult question, because I read voraciously. You'd think I'd have better mastering of the English language with all my reading. I could go right back to probably when I first got involved with personal development. That'd be The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, which is a classic in its own time. There's Stephen Covey stuff, of course, The 7 Habits.

Alan Robinson:

But I would say probably the couple of books I've read recently that have been most profoundly influential in what I do is one is called How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. It's by Lisa Feldman Barrett. It gives a really interesting and slightly controversial view of how the brain works, and how emotions are formed, and how we manage those. That's one I would recommend if you're interested in the neuroscience of it.

Alan Robinson:

I might be getting a little bit morbid, but the other thing I'm really interested in, if we want to build repair systems and mechanisms for this trying to lift people out of the mental health realm, things like The Body Keeps The Score. It's a book about trauma, transformation of trauma, which sounds a bit morbid, but it's a really, really interesting read by Bessel van der Kolk, V-A-N D-E-R K-O-L-K. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body and the Transformation of Trauma. It's a really useful book. If you're a parent, it should be mandatory reading, I should suggest.

Jack Peploe:

Coming up next week, we welcome behavioral psychologist, Andy Edwards, who is here to talk to us about change and leadership in the veterinary sector.

Andy Edwards:

One of the most effective ways of ... I believe there's about seven or eight ways of being a leader without which you've got a problem. One of the main ways is to have one-to-ones regularly and often.

Andy Edwards:

When people say to me, "Well, what's a one-to-one?" I say, "20 minutes, 10 minutes, but it has to be at least once a month." "Yeah, but I do that on the shop floor. I do that in the office. I do that in the practice." I say, "Right, and so you should. That's called a casual catch-up, but that's not ring-fenced quality time one-to-one, looking somebody in the eyes, and asking the biggest leadership question you can, which is, 'Am I letting you down at the moment?'"

Jack Peploe:

That's it for this episode. All links and recommendations we talked about are in the show notes. Don't forget to subscribe and share the podcast if you found it useful. In the meantime, thanks for listening. See you next time.