How to Maximize the Potential of Your Existing Patients

A Q&A with VetSuccess, veterinary data experts.

VetSuccess provides practice performance reports, dashboards, and automated marketing solutions for veterinary practices. They make sense of complex veterinary data and turn it into actionable information.

VetSuccess Marketing Manager, Kate Zirkle is here to help explain why and how to maximize the potential of your existing, active patients. Let’s dig in.

Is it more important for practices to focus on new or existing patients?

Kate: While both are important for overall practice health, acquiring new patients is much harder than retaining existing ones. A wise practice manager balances acquisition and retention, with a strong focus on net patient growth and, more importantly, detailed active patient counts.

What is an active patient?

Kate: After much debate, the veterinary industry has pretty much settled on the following definition: An active patient is one that has visited your practice in the last 18 months and has not since been marked inactive or deceased.

Is measuring net patient growth enough?

Kate: Nope. Net patient growth only looks at the number of net new patients you gained. While growth is always good, net change in active patients doesn’t tell you how many active patients were lost. You might be really great at attracting new clients and patients but you might also be really great at losing patients, which will ultimately catch up to you. We like to refer to this as the leaky bucket. Net patient growth should be one of many metrics you measure monthly to gauge the overall health of your business.

Can you give us an example?

Kate: Sure! In the chart below you’ll see that Practice A and Practice B both achieved a net patient growth of 2%. But if you look closer at the details, you’ll see drastically different stories on how they got there.

Practice A Practice B
Net change in active patients +40 (2% increase) +40 (2% increase)
Active patients at start of month 2,000 2,000
Active patients gained 60 (3%) 180 (9%)
Active patients lost 20 (1%) 140 (7%)
Active patients at end of month 2,040 2,040

While Practice B did a great job acquiring patients, they also did a great job of losing them. So, at the end of the day, Practice B worked way harder than Practice A and ended up with the same 2% growth. To be fair, this may not be the practice’s fault. The demographics of their community, like if they’re a college or military town, might contribute to the high turnover. Still, if you only focus on net growth, you’ll never discover the opportunities you’re missing.

Why do net patient numbers decline?

Kate: Net patient numbers decline for three reasons: 1. Patients die. 2. Patients become inactive due to, say, moving. 3. Patients don’t visit your practice for more than 18 months, i.e. they lapse. While you can’t influence the first two reasons, you can certainly influence the third by engaging and recapturing patients before they lapse.

Why and how should practices re-engage lapsing patients?

Kate: Lapsing patients are one of the greatest opportunities for improving your practice’s active patient count and the overall health of your business. Analysis and studies have shown that the time spent interacting with these patients yields a fantastic return and is far easier than acquiring a new patient, so begin by identifying them and then take action to bring them back to your practice. We recommend reaching out to them via traditional mail, phone calls, and email. (RETRIEVER can actually automate this for you.) Stress the importance of regular vet visits and give them an easy way to book their next appointment. Then measure the impact of your actions and prepare to be amazed by your ROI.

How can practices easily measure and track their active patients?

Kate: Practice management software reports are either unlikely to provide the necessary details for active patients or are too time-consuming to pull. The Practice Overview Report from VetSuccess is an easy way to monitor changes in your active patients, revenue, and key customer service metrics. Use it to effortlessly catch patients before they lapse and take action via a detailed appendix which lists client information for lapsed patients.

Kate Zirkle is a Marketing Manager for VetSuccess. She has a bachelor’s degree in advertising, with minors in marketing and psychology, from Kent State University, and her career has focused on marketing for companies in the animal health and veterinary industry. When not working, you can usually find Kate kayaking, traveling, or curled up with a good book.