It’s Not Your Mother’s Pet Portal
The concept of a pet portal originated in 2000 by Peter Glassman, DVM, as a way for clients to have secure online access to information about their pets’ health.
Clients who register could easily check their pets’ health records, refill prescriptions, print vaccination records, set appointments, access a pet health library, review their account, and shop in an online store.
Today, pet portals have evolved to also be a proactive cost-efficient and time-efficient communication tool to improve pet health care through improved compliance, to generate more office visits, and to bring in new clients.
VetStreet, Inc provides pet portals to 20% of US veterinary practices. EVT spoke with Bruce Truman, Vice President of Strategic Accounts, and Lisa Lausten, Vice President, Vetstreet.com Marketing, about getting the most from a pet portal service. According to Truman and Lausten, a pet portal can:
1. Convert an “Average” Client to a “Best” Client
The client-facing side of pet portals, where owners individually register through their veterinary hospital’s website, represents a much smaller portion of the business than in the past. The lion’s share of a pet portal’s value now lies in optimizing client communication through customized and targeted emails, including appointment reminders, enewsletters, birthday cards, medication renewal reminders, promotions, and more.
“Our goal is to help vets engage clients. We know that effective client communication is the key to compliance,” says Truman, “but the average client goes in once—maybe twice—a year to see a veterinarian; that’s the only time they have the opportunity to connect in person. [Pet portals] help to facilitate that communication. We see ourselves as being the behind-the-scenes heavy-lifter for client communications, which allows veterinarians to do what they do best—practice medicine.”
2. Bring New Business in to Your Animal Hospital
While the value of good client communication must not be underestimated, Lausten recognizes that “great communication with current clients is not a great way to get new clients in the door.”
Pet portal providers such as VetStreet also offer client-facing websites that offer medically reliable pet health information, pet care tips, news, and a pet owner community, and more. “We know that clients go to the internet for information about pet health,” Truman says. “Consumers who access vetstreet.com can search for a veterinarian in their area. It’s a great way for local consumers to find a vet,” he notes, adding that the website hosts 900,000 visitors a month.
Pet portal providers can also help feed the hungry beast that is your hospital website. Fresh content is needed to keep people coming back to visit, but it can be time-consuming to prepare new content. Even worse, poorly written or designed content can reflect badly on your practice. Vetstreet.com adds 6 to 8 new articles a day, which can be posted for free (with credit) on subscriber websites.
3. Provide a Desired Service to Your Best Clients
Pet parents who go to the effort to register for a pet portal database and enter their pet’s profile are likely your best clients. These owners will appreciate the convenience of being able to renew prescriptions, schedule appointments, buy medications, track their pet profiles, print vaccination records, and access the pet portal’s consumer website. “This is one more way of presenting your brand,” Truman says.
Pet Portal Tips
Bruce Truman and Lisa Lausten offer these suggestions for getting the most out of your practice’s pet portal:
• Assign one person, such as the practice manager or a receptionist, with overall responsibility for the pet portal, including client communication content, online store purchases, checking the portal and monitoring emails, and managing reports. This is a big responsibility, so choose carefully.
• The key to success is to obtain clients’ email addresses. Make sure your client check-in form asks for email addresses and that front-office staff or technicians are flagged to collect email data when clients are in the exam room. Inform clients about their email confidentiality, and make sure they are aware they can opt out at any time.
• Customizing and targeting your emails is invaluable, but it is generally to your advantage to let the pet portal experts write the copy.
• Set goals to assess your progress. For example set a target for the number of new clients to bring in during a one-month period, or the number of appointments to be set in response to your spring parasite awareness email campaign.
• Take advantage of the opportunity to contact as many clients as possible in real time, such as in response to a pet food recall. As Truman notes, “With just a few clicks, you can contact all your clients. It’s a far better way to communicate than making 3000 phone calls.”
For related articles, please see the following:
Veterinary Website Do's and Don'ts
How to Use Video to Promote Your Animal Hospital