A new business model for integrative veterinary practice – focusing on education
This new model of integrative veterinary practice combines treating patients with providing a wealth of education to clients.
Many integrative and holistic veterinary practitioners share similar frustrations. Even though we provide as much education and explanation as we can for the reasons behind holistic and proactive care, clients still often look for a quick fix. Many come to us with limited funds, having already spent hundreds on diagnostics and failed treatments. Even clients with young animals wait until an obvious illness occurs rather than following our guidelines for building health and preventing problems.
The more I learned about true healing and what it really takes to achieve it, the more frustrated I became with what I offered my clients and what they were willing to do. I felt as if I was working with both hands tied behind my back, unable to help my animal patients the way I’d be able to if their guardians would only let me. Attempting to educate clients during the short time they spent in my office yielded limited results, because despite my efforts to emphasize prevention, I often wouldn’t see them again until something else went wrong with their pets.
One experience gave me a new perspective on running my practice. I had been talking repeatedly to one of my clients about the importance of proper dental work for her horse, but on some level she still didn’t understand how crucial it was to work with an equine dentist who knew how to balance teeth properly. It wasn’t until she heard me speak at a lecture that addressed teeth, the TMJ and hyoid apparatus that the coin finally dropped. That’s when I realized clients don’t hear half of what I explain to them when their animals are present. Maybe they are worried, the material is too new to them, or they’re too emotional, so the knowledge doesn’t stick?
In addition, I kept meeting animals in their eleventh hour when their people were distraught and financially drained.
These frustrations didn’t really change when I opened my own practice, because now I also had to face my lack of business skills. In search of better ways to practice, I asked myself: “What if I could train people so their animals stayed healthy until they die of old age, just like my grandparents did?”
Luckily, that’s when I came across an opportunity to learn about an entirely different business model that has changed the way I work.
My new model of integrative veterinary practice combines treating my patients with educating my clients. I still mostly see patients in desperate need of healing, with the occasional holistically-minded client who already cares for his/her animals in proactive ways. The difference is that I now train clients in the art of health and prevention. This benefits their sick pets while building health for any other animals they have or will share their life with in the future.
The format of my treatment and teaching practice has five distinct parts:
- Initial consultation
- Treating and teaching
When potential clients call my office, I briefly explain that I work differently than most veterinarians. Currently, I have no staff. I ask them to watch a video lecture or invite them to one of my in-person talks so they better understand what I do and why I do it. During this pre-education, I take them step by step from the “quick fix” belief to knowing what it will really take to truly turn their animals’ health around. By the end, they know the true meaning of symptoms and that to restore their animals’ health they need to address the root cause of problems. I explain some basic physiologic needs to point out that everything is connected and that the body needs to be taken care of as a whole. I also go through the six pillars of health with them: nutrition, GI tract, detox, hormones, nervous system and fitness and exercise. This helps them recognize that if they address all these aspects of healing together, they will get much better and faster improvement than if they only work with one body part at a time. This approach was key to my own personal healing from auto-immune disease.
This pre-education process prepares potential clients for understanding the need to invest time and money into their animals’ healing and future health-building. Pre-education also helps me weed out people who are looking for something else, and saves me time during consultations.
At the end of a live talk, potential clients get the option to sign up for an initial consultation. Those who watch the video at home are usually already scheduled for an appointment.
2. Initial consultation
In preparation for our first consultation, I email the client a questionnaire to send back to me along with veterinary records and lab results. This allows me to prepare for the consultation with a plan of action for his or her animal.
The purpose of this first meeting is to go over the questionnaire, explain the treatment plan I envision for the patient, and talk about the program I recommend for the animal depending on age and level of health. In a way, it is a bit like an interview for both parties. The investment for the program is explained. If the client decides this is the path she wants to take, we get started with lab work. The physical exam is usually done once the lab results are in and we meet again.
I offer three different programs, each of which includes an education component.
- “Jump Start to a Healthy Life” is for puppies, kittens and foals. Depending on how old the animal is, the duration of this program can be as long as 12 to 15 months. Initially, the animal gets a little more attention just to get him or her on a good diet, detox some of the vaccines he might have received, and assure that his nervous system is innervating all parts of the body properly so he can grow up with good alignment and decreased risk of injury. Follow-up visits take place about every other month depending on need. This program allows me to help prevent over-vaccination and the application of other toxic substances, and to be sure the client is continuing to take steps to maximize his/her animal’s health.
- The “Optimizing Health” program is for adult animals with no health issues and a guardian who wants to prevent illness from arising down the road. The duration is 16 weeks and includes approximately four visits, during which I walk the client through nutrition, GI health, detox and the rest of the six pillars, all individualized for his/her animal.
- The “Wellness Program” is for animals with more significant health issues. Its duration is six months and includes more visits, treatments and supplements.
3. Treating and teaching
The goal here is to restore and maximize a patient’s health while the client goes through an educational series of classes. By the time he/she graduates from this program, he/she understands what is required to create and maintain health.
- The treatment part always starts out with a physical exam and a review of lab results. The client receives a binder containing important information, as well as the initial supplements included in his/her program fee. Optimizing nutrition and healing the gastrointestinal system is the first step for all programs. Once a good degree of stability is achieved, most patients go through a detox program. From the first visit, to support bodily healing, patients receive a variety of treatments such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, microbiome restorative therapy, NAET treatments, ozone therapy, and hormonal support.
In the first half of the program, I see patients approximately every two weeks, more often if necessary. After that, the consults usually spread out to every three to four weeks.
- The education part is key to my success. While patients are receiving treatment, their guardians go through a series of eight classes. The sessions take place at a local juicery every other week in the evenings for about one to one-and-a-half hours. These classes also introduce people to some healthy support for themselves. Alternately, clients can also choose the online option and watch the classes in the comfort of their own homes. This series of videos is also available to other holistic veterinarians to incorporate into their own practices.
The classes include:
- Nutrition Basics
- Nutrition Application
- GI Health
- Nervous System
- Fitness/Exercise with an outside trainer specializing in balance and correct muscle development to enhance performance and avoid injuries
4. Graduation and membership
Once they complete the program, most people will continue on for maintenance or further healing if necessary.
At that point, I offer three membership options including four to 12 visits per year and different discount levels for labs and supplements, depending on the plan they choose.
All my program costs are bundled. This allows me to offer outside financing and also takes money off the table to focus on healing rather than the cost of supplements, etc. As a result, I can give patients what I deem most helpful without their guardians having to worry about expenses every time I see them.
The investment can range anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000+ depending on the size of the animal and the duration of the program.
Three payment options are available:
- One time investment at initial visit; clients receive an extra 5% off.
- Three monthly payments with the first due at the time of initial visit.
- Outside financing for up to 60 months.
This fee covers the following:
- Individualized program design, including any research I need to do
- Initial lab work
- Supplements and neutraceuticals
- All treatments and consults
- One-on-one mentoring and support outside of appointments
- Educational materials
- Eight classes
Additional lab work necessary to re-check progress is charged extra. Supplements usually last at least three months. There might be extra cost depending on what the animal needs.
To offset any interest clients might incur from outside financing, I deduct 10% from the total program investment for everyone.
Challenges and wins
Of course difficulties are never lacking. This method of practicing comes with its own set of challenges, depending mostly on the practitioner’s strengths and weaknesses. For me, marketing and getting people to sign up for the program is the most challenging part. I’ve had to make many adjustments to find a way that suits me best. On the bright side, it has pushed me to learn about many business-related considerations I had no clue about. As with any patient’s care, I have to be very creative and flexible and find ways to think outside the box. It is an ongoing process, for sure, and as they say: “no pain, no gain”.
When I first switched over to this approach, I was only offering the programs. Realizing that I was turning away too many patients who either couldn’t afford the whole package, or still needed a little more time to get on board, I now recommend the program as a starting point of the financial discussion, and then work with people at the level they’re comfortable with.
All in all, it is exciting to try on a new business model. I’ve been much happier with the results I see in my patients, and feel more fulfilled practicing this way, because I can give everything I have. It’s heartwarming to see how my clients change as they learn. Many have even applied the education they receive to their own health. In addition, getting paid for all the hours I spend researching and teaching is certainly nice!