In this exclusive Q&A, we get to learn about the Vital Care Infusion Services franchise opportunity from the company’s director of franchise sales, Christian VonDrehle.
Franchise Chatter (FC) Can you tell us about Vital Care and the services you offer?
Christian VonDrehle (CV): Vital Care is the number-one pharmacy franchise business for infusion services, and we have over 60 franchised pharmacies across two dozen states. We got our start in 1986 when our founder Johnny Bell was working as a consultant pharmacist for a hospital in West Alabama, and he realized the advantages and benefits of alternate-site or home infusions over hospitalizations.
It is our mission to partner with pharmacy owners across America to provide patients with professional, compassionate, safe, and cost-effective infusion services, with a focus on underserved secondary markets. Our vision is to be your community’s infusion provider, improving the lives of patients and health care professionals through access to the best service possible.
Our franchised locations operate as specialty infusion pharmacies. We dispense and coordinate the administration of intravenous therapies such as anti-infectives, parenteral and enteral nutrition, immunoglobulin, and other specialty therapies for chronic diseases. These are pharmaceutical services and provide a higher level of expertise and coordination than services like hydration IVs (“hangover cure”) and Botox found in medical or wellness spas. Vital Care locations comply with federal and state standards for preparation of sterile products and are also accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC).
FC: Can you tell us more about the home and specialty infusion industry for our readers who might not know?
CV: The National Home Infusion Association (NHIA) defines home and specialty infusion as “a vast arena of pharmaceutical services provided in the outpatient setting.” The majority of infusion medications involve needles or catheters – hence “infusion” – and the medications are prescribed for both acute and chronic illnesses that cannot be treated with oral medicine alone. Common diseases are infections, gastrointestinal diseases and disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, immune deficiencies, and many other chronic diagnoses.
At the time of Vital Care’s inception, commercial insurance companies began covering more home services, like intravenous antibiotics and total parenteral nutrition, and Medicare was covering IV medications that required a pump for administration. As a safe and cost-effective alternative to inpatient care, the opportunity for alternate-site and home infusion expanded quickly.
Since the 1980s, the industry has experienced tremendous growth. In fact, in a 2019 study, NHIA found that home and specialty infusion providers cared for more than 3 million patients in the U.S., representing a +300% increase since the last industry study was performed in 2008. NHIA also estimated in 2020 that home and specialty infusion was a $19 billion industry. Looking ahead, the industry is expected to grow to $25.3 billion by the end of this year and to $44.7 billion by 2028, according to a market analysis report by Grandview Research.
FC: With the industry growing so rapidly, has Vital Care experienced similar growth?
CV: Vital Care’s franchised pharmacy owners’ billing receipts have grown at an average year-over-year rate of 55.48%. This is because, not only is there tremendous patient demand for infusion services, but there is a considerable gap that exists in the number of providers who are able to serve these patients. To quantify this, the infusion industry serves 3.2 million patients annually, yet there are only 974 providers nationwide – a 3,285 to 1 ratio. With the industry forecast for significant revenue growth in the years to come, this gap will only widen and the need for providers like Vital Care will continue to surge.
We are continuing to open franchised pharmacies throughout the country and have had a very strong first half of 2021, signing franchise agreements for new pharmacies in South Carolina, Kansas, Florida, and Texas. Our unique ability to provide economies of scale to a local business owner continues to be why people all over the country are looking to open new Vital Care franchise locations. Due to our scale, we can help independent business owners find opportunities in markets that are not viable to most others in our industry.
FC: How has the pandemic impacted your business?
CV: Infusion businesses like Vital Care played a critical role in the pandemic because they alleviated the burden on overwhelmed hospitals and other medical facilities. Not only that, but there was an increase in patient demand because individuals opted to receive their infusions at home to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 or simply because there was no other option for them to get treatment in the height of the pandemic.
As a result, 37% of Vital Care franchises performed above average in 2020 and, overall our franchised pharmacies saw a +43% average gross revenue growth over 2019.
FC: What makes Vital Care a strong business opportunity for franchisees?
CV: Aside from the sheer need for infusion providers, Vital Care is currently the only pharmacy franchise business for infusion services, providing a turnkey opportunity for people looking to become a business owner in an industry with several barriers to entry.
Access to insurance contracting, affordable and scalable medical billing and collection services, limited distribution product access, and the overall high cost of goods are just a few of the significant barriers to entry for anyone looking to open an infusion pharmacy. Add in the time and money involved to build and staff a specialty infusion pharmacy and it is incredibly overwhelming to attempt this independently. Vital Care provides the roadmap to ownership in the specialty infusion pharmacy industry and our model works, as evidenced by our franchisees and their continued reinvestment in new territories.
Each of our franchise locations is locally owned and operated with the backing and expertise of a national brand, which comes with proprietary tools, resources, and support in place to help them to create local connections and break through those barriers to entry. The local piece of our business has been key to our success as a brand because it allows our franchisees’ patients to build relationships with their care providers, and local doctors know who will be getting their referrals and taking care of their patients. Our franchisees being deeply engrained in their local communities is what makes them special!
Vital Care supports its franchise owners by providing scale and expert clinical, operational, and industry support so the franchisees can focus on taking care of those in their communities. They can act faster, solve problems quicker, and impact their communities so much more efficiently than other providers. By focusing on providing incredible service and spending time on the relationships that matter with both the patients they care for and the healthcare professionals they support, Vital Care franchisees win!
FC: What kind of support does Vital Care offer its franchisees?
CV: Our Vital Starts program is a four-step process that guides new franchisees through discovery, training, business launch, and then continues to support their infusion pharmacy business as it grows.
When we award a franchise, that franchisee immediately gains access to assistance from our experienced Corporate Outreach team with all the planning stages of launching their Vital Care pharmacy. Our team guides every new franchisee through planning and accreditation right to opening day. This guidance includes support for clinical and operational policies and procedures, accreditation and regulatory support, as well as new staff training support. New franchisees also benefit from our team’s support through our essential Vital Care Accreditation Program, which ensures all Vital Care locations meet the highest standards of quality control and assurance.
After the franchise launches their Vital Care, our corporate support staff focuses on helping them quickly grow their new infusion pharmacy business. This includes continuing education for staff, payor relations, trade relations, and clinical support. We work with pharmaceutical companies, drug wholesalers, distributors, and group purchasing organizations to aggregate the volume of our network to bring competitive pricing, rebates, and field collaborative marketing opportunities.
Additionally, our clinical support team at Vital Care includes pharmacists, nurses, dieticians, and pharmacy technicians that provide all types of clinical and nutrition consults such as dosing, order recommendations, nursing consults, or patient lab reviews.
Ongoing support includes business development support, technology and IT systems innovations, revenue cycle management systems, sales and marketing support, and more. These all work together to optimize our franchisees’ home infusion businesses so they can place their primary focus on providing the best care to their communities.
FC: What is Vital Care’s ideal franchise candidate?
CV: At Vital Care, we see our franchisees as part of our family, so we prioritize culture-fit when assessing candidates. Over the past 35 years, starting with our founder Johnny Bell, to now our current leadership team, we have built a culture of mutual respect and trust, and everyone at Vital Care appreciates and values one another’s opinions. We live by the characteristics author Patrick Lencioni describes in his book, The Ideal Team Player, which are being humble, hungry, and smart. What’s most important to us is that all franchisees, operating partners, and stakeholders have a passion for infusion patient care.
Our target franchise candidates right now are pharmacist operators, experienced multi-unit franchisees, and health care executives who may be looking for their next venture. Franchise candidates must be financially qualified and be able to access up to $750,000 in total capital through an SBA loan or other financial means.
FC: Do you require franchise owners to be pharmacists or have experience in the infusion industry?
CV: You are not required to be a pharmacist or have infusion industry experience in order to be successful with Vital Care. Our franchisees come from a variety of different backgrounds from healthcare administration to sales to business development.
As part of our franchise application process, we assist prospective franchisees with identifying the best role for them to operate their Vital Care franchise – whether it is as a strategic investor, owner-operator, or owner-pharmacist. We will quickly work to identify whether a franchise candidate has the required relationships and industry knowledge that we deem necessary to become a franchise owner.
If you need to identify a pharmacist to join your team, the good news is that it is a very attractive opportunity. Vital Care pharmacies provide the opportunity to focus on the clinical practice of pharmacy while also having the support of our expert clinical teams and comprehensive and experienced infusion billing department. This allows them the opportunity to provide more compassionate infusion care vs. constantly verifying that insurance companies will provide coverage and payment for the complex therapy needs of their beneficiaries.
FC: Where can our readers learn more about franchising opportunities with Vital Care?
CV: You can head to www.vitalstarts.com or contact me directly at email@example.com.