Step Up the Checkup: How to Boost Millennial Preventive Veterinary Care

by:
on February 13, 2017

I’m a millennial, and I’ve only taken my puppy to the vet once. She runs and plays, poops and pees; she eats just fine. So, why do I need to take her in for a checkup?

My seemingly healthy seven-month-old Basenji mix, Hazelnut Victoria Short


This dismissive attitude about preventive veterinary care is common among pet owners. And while the overall veterinary industry is growing, many vets need help conveying the value of regular vet visits to the millennial generation.

Through strategic marketing, education and personalized service, veterinary practices can demonstrate the value of preventive pet care to millennials, the largest pet-owning demographic in the U.S.

We surveyed 300 millennial pet owners in the U.S. to find out how frequently they visit the vet, what keeps them from scheduling appointments and how technology can help increase convenience. We also spoke to two veterinary professionals who provided additional tips for veterinary practices.

About Half of Millennials Visit Vet Once a Year, But Millions Never Go

For years, veterinary organizations suggested pet owners take their animal in for a preventive care checkup at least once a year. They have recently increased that recommendation to twice a year.

About half of our millennial survey respondents, both dog and cat owners, say they go about once a year (45 and 55 percent, respectively.)

Frequency of Annual Checkups by Millennial Pet Type

annual pet checkup frequency

 

Another 5 percent of dog owners and 7 percent of cat owners say they never go to the vet for preventive care.

When you extrapolate this to the number of pets in the country, it accounts for more than 10 million dogs and cats that could be visiting the vet more often to prevent costly procedures in the future.

Veterinarian Dr. Erin Homburg opened the Austin Urban Vet Center in 2009 in downtown Austin, a city known as the nation’s millennial capital.

Millennials, who spend more on their pets than other generations, make up a majority of her clients. She’s confident the group will respond to the newer twice-a-year suggestion from the top veterinary organizations.

“The profession has been recommending two annual visits within the last five years, so I think [millennials] will pick up on that and start coming more often.”

Dr. Erin Homburg, DVM, Austin Urban Vet Center

Vets need to clearly convey the value of preventive care to keep clients coming back. We look at the most common apprehension next.

Costs Prevent Most Millennials From Visiting the Vet More Often

Cost remains the primary factor that prevents millennials from visiting the vet more often for preventive care, among 60 percent of respondents. Another 15 percent say these visits are unnecessary, while 11 percent say they’re simply too busy to schedule vet appointments.

Top Factors Preventing Millennial Vet Visits

factors preventing millennial vet visits

 

In 2015, a Washington Post writer recapped his expensive trip to the vet, shocked by the $900-plus hospital bill for his cat’s 48-hour visit. He blamed greedy vets for taking advantage of pet owners.

The American Veterinary Medical Association fired back, explaining that vets have increasingly expensive overhead, long hours and debt from medical school to manage, and that many offer payment plans and other assistance programs.

There’s clearly a disconnect between pet owners and the perceived value of preventive pet care.

Eric Garcia, an expert on veterinary technology and marketing and founder of Simply Done Tech Solutions, says vets need to become better marketers and educators about pet health so that millennials realize the value of regular visits.

“We identified pet owners today want to be empowered with information. Practices [that] empowered clients with more information were more profitable than those that did not.”

Eric Garcia, Founder of Simply Done Tech Solutions

So how can vets express the importance of preventive vet visits? One way is to speak their social media language and tap into their emotions, Garcia says.

He suggests sharing case studies from real patients on social media, which could include:

  • A patient diagnosed with heartworms, and how routine care helped uncover a serious, but treatable, disease.
  • A physical exam of an overweight dog, and how the vet offered suggestions that helped the patient slim down and avoid diabetes.
  • A turnaround in bad behavior after the vet taught the pet owner some best practices for puppy training.

These real-life examples impact millennials more than straight facts and figures, Garcia says, and he sees high engagement with this strategy consistently.

Another way to combat sticker shock is by offering payment plans, or the CareCredit program, to spread payments out over time. Pet owners will be more likely to schedule a visit knowing the practice offers various payment options.

“We want to help the babies just like you want to help your baby, but it costs us to help,” Dr. Homburg says. “It’s hard for us to charge people for that, and we discount stuff all the time. But I think there’s a way to present it, not only to millennials but to everyone, that appeals to them.”

Costs for preventive pet care can overwhelm millennial clients. Educate patients about the cost savings of spotting health issues early, and offer options to spread the payments out over time.

Below, we’ll discuss some technologies that tap into the way millennials want to communicate in order to drive return visits.

More Than Half of Millennials Don’t Have Access to Vet Patient Portals

Online portals are popular in medical practices of all kinds because they give patients a simple way to schedule appointments, make payments, review health details and find other resources. Most importantly, it allows pet owners and doctors to communicate whenever it’s most convenient.

More than a quarter (28 percent) of millennials had access to an online portal during their last veterinary visit and found it helpful, while 53 percent visited a vet with no portal available.

Millennial Use of Online Vet Patient Portals

online vet patient portal use

 

Dr. Homburg offers a patient portal to schedule appointments or make payments, and her millennial clients appreciate the convenient form of communication.

“Patients can include pet pictures, recent prescriptions or the food their dog eats—all of that is in the app and it pulls from my veterinary software,” she says. “Millennials like using the portal because it’s speaking their language, which is becoming all of our language.”

Garcia says portals are a smart investment, but staff and doctors should aggressively promote the service and its benefits as a knowledge center to experience the most engagement. This can satisfy the millennial’s need for information.

“[Portals are] a pro-veterinary powerhouse of education,” he says. “Why, as a profession, would we get away from offering every opportunity to provide clients with good education?”

Vet practices that invest in patient portal technology to establish communication channels and a knowledge center for millennial pet owners are more likely to encourage return visits.

Next, we look at how veterinary offices should send notifications and which methods millennials respond to best.

Only 9 Percent Receive Text Notifications for Upcoming Appointments

Appointment-based companies tend to send alerts to reduce no-shows. It’s an effective move for all kinds of demographics, but certain methods of notification have more impact with millennials.

Just under half of our survey respondents (49 percent) say they were contacted by phone call before their last vet visit. Twenty-eight percent say they received an email, and 9 percent got a text reminder.

Another 14 percent didn’t receive a notification at all.

Method of Notifications for Vet Visits

vet visit notification method

 

According to the Pet Owner 2.0 study by DVM360, 47 percent of millennials are likely to think their veterinarians are very accessible compared to 78 percent of baby-boomer pet owners. When millennials can easily message with health care providers, they’re more likely to engage with you and schedule multiple visits.

Texting should be a much more common form of communication with millennials, Garcia says.

“This is a critical new way of communicating,” he says. “We all know the facts about texting and how often it’s done and how the younger generation would rather send a text than call.”

Most apps can also alert clients of upcoming appointments or dates when a pet needs booster shots or refill medications. Garcia says an app can target specific types of clients, such as individual pet owners, only cat owners or owners of senior pets.

Vets can reduce cancellations and increase trust with notifications through millennial-preferred channels, such as a mobile app or by text.

More Tips to Boost Preventive Vet Visits

Millennials are the pet owners vets need to attract now to create lifetime, loyal clients. It’s not that I don’t care enough about Hazel; I just want a more personalized experience from my health care provider.

Dr. Homburg describes a recent quintessential millennial vet visit:

  • The pet owner is in her mid-20s and adopted a dog from the Austin shelter
  • She checked out reviews of Dr. Homburg’s practice on Yelp and Google
  • She visited the website, took the virtual tour and made an appointment
  • She showed a YouTube video of the problem her dog was having

The type of video the millennial client brought to illustrate a generally harmless reverse sneeze


“She could’ve described it until she’s blue in the face, but if she can refer me to a video of her dog actually doing it, she could email that to me and I can put it in her medical records,” Dr. Homburg says. “I was able to help her more readily with that specific issue.”

This illustrates how millennials want to communicate—personalized to their unique situation and enhanced with technology.

Garcia and Dr. Homburg offer specific tips to make the most out of your millennial engagement strategies:

  • Hire millennials. Dr. Homburg says millennial staff members are helpful in building a bridge between younger clients and older doctors.
  • Automate some communication with millennials. Ask for mobile phone numbers on new client forms and explain that texts will only be used for information about their pet. Also offer an option to opt-out of text communications. Garcia recommends using a veterinary-specific app to send automated messages.
  • Offer alternative pet care. Dr. Homburg says millennial clients are more open to alternatives to Western vet medicine, such as acupuncture. “It’s not just about coming in and getting shots,” she says.
  • Form a relationship based on trust. Sometimes, Dr. Homburg recommends clients check Amazon for certain products she sells herself. “I’m interested in building that relationship and trust, so if I can save her money and she comes back and gets blood work in a month, that’s what I want because it’s the best care for both of them,” she says.

Next Steps to Increase Preventive Pet Care Visits

As a millennial pet owner, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for preventive vet visits. In the long run, regular checkups are best for Hazel and my bank account. There are a couple of next steps to take to find technology that can help convey value in routine pet care:

Software can be an invaluable tool for effective communication with millennials. Take a look at our veterinary software page to find a system that facilitates outreach, education and communication with pet owners.

For more guidance, call (844) 687-6771 for a free consultation to help narrow down veterinary systems into a shortlist of the ones that best meet your needs.

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