Tuesdays with Shlomo

The membership model

Dr. Shlomo Freiman

April 18, 2023

A curious cat with black white and cream fur and piercing blue eyes, looking at the camera with a quizzical expression.
Alba, age 2

Like and subscribe…to your vet? While you may not have heard of veterinary memberships before, you probably will soon. Why? As we learned in this edition of Tuesdays with Shlomo, there’s already a troubling shortage of veterinarians and veterinary staff, and it’s only going to get worse.

Membership models won’t fix the shortage, but they will offer a way for pet parents to guarantee their pet access to care when it matters most. Also, by ensuring pets are getting the routine wellness care they need, they might keep pets out of urgent care altogether. In this interview, Dr. Shlomo Freiman breaks down what a membership model is, why it’s worth it, and which one to choose.

I haven’t heard of membership before as a model for veterinary care. What is it?

Well, I like to say it’s a win-win situation.

It works better on the veterinary side. It makes it more predictable and easier to deliver the care. And on the client side, you can guarantee you’ll get the care you need for your pet and that it can be delivered at a much more affordable and predictable cost. In addition, by focusing on wellness and preventative care, your pet is more likely to live a longer and healthier life. This business model also lends itself to a much more premium experience. You get continuous care in and out of the clinic, which ultimately translates to healthier pets and happier customers.

That’s the goal of veterinary medicine, isn’t it? So, why now? What prompted people to move to a membership model?

A lot of it has to do with a problem that we’ve had in the vet space for a long time, but that became more apparent during the pandemic. There’s a huge mismatch between the demand for care and the ability of vets to meet that demand. The membership model helps because pet parents can have some assurance that their pets will get the care that they need when they need it.

Chart showing that total veterinary appointments booked grew by 4.5% in 2020 and continued growing by 6.5% in 2021.
Chart courtesy of VetSuccess Industry Data

Was it bad enough that people couldn’t get their pet in to see the vet in time to help?

I mean it wasn’t unheard of that you wouldn’t be able to see your own patient for a week or even longer. Now it’s very common that pet parents call their vets and it’s like, “Well, we can’t see you, you need to go to urgent care.” When you have a membership the idea is that you can be seen in a timely manner. In fact, most membership plans guarantee it.

You shared a study with me from Banfield Pet Hospital that says 75 million pets might not be able to access care by 2030. What’s driving that?

There’s just a huge shortage of veterinarians. A lot of the baby boomers are retiring and a lot of vets just didn’t come back after the pandemic. A lot of the next generation of vets don’t work full-time or aren’t working at all. But the bottom line is there’s going to be a huge shortage.

That’s alarming. Your membership page mentions telehealth as a key part of the membership model. How does telehealth play into it?

From the client standpoint, I think one of the revolutionary things that we are going to do at Felix&Fido is to use — when it is appropriate — remote supervision of veterinary nurses as one of the tools to deliver care. Traditionally the only way that you can get guidance or find a solution is to see me, the vet, at the office.

And telehealth will change that?

It is necessary to come in and see me a certain percentage of the time, of course, but not always. When you have a formal veterinary client/patient relationship (VCPR), you can often leverage veterinary nurses under remote supervision to gather data, do blood work, and get you the info you need to feel comfortable as a vet delivering a solution without actually physically seeing the pet.

This is a new model of care and it’s part of every membership plan we offer. I really think it’s going to revolutionize veterinary care. We talked about 75 million pets lacking care. That’s a lot of pets that need to be seen. There’s a reason why nurse practitioners are so important in human medicine, and it’s going to be the same for pets. We can help so many more pets and so many more pet parents by better utilizing telehealth, and maybe we can even help close that gap in care.

A digitally hand-drawn diagram indicating that Felix&Fido's scope of care will emphasize the membership model which allows for predictability when covering general wellness and sick care.
Back of the napkin chart that Shlomo drew when brainstorming early ideas for Felix&Fido

So your nurses can send you instant results? Like a blood glucose reading or something?

It’s more than that. Specifically for Felix&Fido, we have a kind of “latest and greatest” type of device that within five minutes at somebody’s home, and using only two drops of blood, can give me glucose levels and 18 other parameters. The nurse is going to be sending me this information and running a couple of other tests, and with it I can feel comfortable in many cases starting treatment remotely.

These kinds of telehealth exams, and all exams for that matter, are included in all of your membership levels. What differentiates them?

Basically our patients are not all homogeneous in their needs. Their needs change based on age, breed, species, size, and so on. As we talked about last time, a Yorkie is not the same as a Great Dane. We need to find the package or the membership that is most suitable for your pet. For example, my son has a Frenchie. His dog is young, but that breed has so many problems that he probably will need the highest level of membership. But if you take a dog that’s quote unquote a normal dog — I don’t know, a Lab — he doesn’t need all those resources. Of course, as anybody gets older they need more care, more observation, and more monitoring, which translates to a more comprehensive membership.

It’s a good thing those Frenchies are so cute. So basically, like we talked about last time, pets age at different rates. You were saying you wouldn’t do a baseline lab work panel on a young healthy pet every year.


So that pet might be a good candidate for the basic membership?

You still want some wellness care, but you don’t need the highest membership level.

What else do people need to know when shopping for a membership? Anything people should be cautious about?

In a perfect world, you pay for a membership and you get top-notch service, an emphasis on wellness, and care when you need it. You’re not overpaying for what you get. What you want to watch for is when the entry cost of the membership looks very attractive, but once you’re in, everything costs way more money than it should.

Have you ever flown Spirit Airlines? The prices are very cheap, but...

Yeah, like, do you want a cup of coffee? You’re paying. If you pay $100 for a membership, that’s a great deal, but not if every vaccine is going to cost you $100.

The bottom line is that you want a membership that includes the things your pet should have — vaccinations, eye/ear exams, and other important preventative care — while also giving you guaranteed affordable or even free access to care for more urgent situations. What I like about the membership model is that, if you do it right, you can do all that really well and it is a win for everyone: the pet, pet parents, and the veterinarian.

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