The privacy and sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship is time-honored and bound by law unless the patient is a poodle.
Taking advantage of that distinction is Harvard-educated M.B.A. Douglas Drew, who runs HealthyPet, a magazine based in Santa Monica with an audited circulation of 3.2 million copies, a figure 28 percent higher than last year.
In 2000, Drew founded Zoasis Corp., a software company designed to help veterinarians access lab results online. He stumbled across HealthyPet and bought it. But trust emerged as a crucial issue. That's because he needed the veterinarians to trust him with their client list so he could send his magazine to pet owners.
"That was a big leap in the veterinary industry and it had a lot of naysayers from the beginning," Drew said.
To protect the doctors, Drew claims his company has developed "an air-tight confidentiality agreement." It specifies that the information can't be shared with others.
So far, the system has worked. But Drew admits that "trust is everything and if they ever stop allowing us to do these mailings, we don't have a business."
Mike Popalardo, principal in the circulation consulting firm Next Steps Marketing, said the concept of indirect subscriptions is widely accepted, but it comes down to execution. "How it works really depends on the quality of fit between the publisher and the industry it serves," he said.
The legal status of pet-patient information varies from state to state, but Drew said veterinarians are allowed to work with outside companies to educate or remind the pet owners about health issues. Most offices simply send out postcards.
HealthyPet fulfills the same mandate by making the mailings on behalf of the veterinarian, technically the same as a direct mail house. Each magazine is personalized with a half-wrap cover that identifies the veterinarian. The magazine is addressed to the pet: "Dear Fluffy" or "Dear Rover." Also, the wrap reminds readers about checkups, vaccines or prescription renewals.
HealthyPet contains advertising related directly to pet ownership. However, Drew said the magazine would make a profit even without ads because the veterinary offices pay for the magazine at a price of 75 cents each. HealthyPet runs 32 pages plus four covers, with about 25 percent of the space devoted to advertising and 75 percent to editorial. That compares with most human-oriented consumer magazines, which fluctuate around a 50-50 advertising-to-editorial ratio.
HealthyPet contacts the vets' offices only by telephone, thus avoiding the expense of a direct sales force.
With a deal finalized, the company can download and configure the veterinarian's client data via the Internet. However, Drew emphasized that his company can't "pull" data from the doctors; they have to "push" the data, or make it available voluntarily. According to the magazine's Web site, HealthyPet works with most veterinary practice management systems, allowing them to reduce the time it takes to create reminders to less than five minutes.
Earlier this year, Drew launched a magazine called HealthySmile. It uses the same methodology as HealthyPet, but in the dental industry.
But the venture serves a more complicated market because of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. HIPAA "sets restrictions and limits on the use of patient information for marketing purposes," according to the Department of Health and Human Services. However, "the rule permits doctors and other covered entities to communicate freely with patients about treatment options and other health-related information."
On the editorial side, Drew has found that unlike pet owners, who share an emotional bond with their animal and like to read about their furry friends, no one really wants to read about teeth. As a result, the editorial has expanded to include nutrition, exercise and the connection between dental health and overall well-being.
Also, HealthySmile puts celebrities on the cover, a technique that works with HealthyPet. The inaugural issue of HealthySmile had Rob Lowe on it, and the upcoming one features Sally Field.
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