LVT, CVPM, SHRM-CP
Picture it: 5 p.m. on a lovely, cool March evening in Charleston, South Carolina. You’re outside on the screened porch, hints of spring are in the air, your beloved dog rests beside you, and tiny gnats squeeze through the screen to bite you. Those pesky flying insects remind you that even in March, the bugs are out, including mosquitoes that transmit heartworm larvae.
As a veterinary professional, you know all about the need for parasite control. You tell clients about year-round heartworm prevention until you are blue in the face. Every. Single. Day. However, too many pet owners paying for your professional advice don’t heed your warnings.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council found that heartworm infections rose in 2019, even in regions of the United States that historically were not of concern. Given all the quality preventives on the market and all the client education delivered, how can that be? And how can we turn the tide?
Pets must be protected year-round to get heartworm disease and other parasitic threats under control. That means persuading clients to do a better job of administering medications. Improving client compliance requires this multifaceted approach:
- Assess the practice.
- Assess the team.
- Assess the client.
- Assess the data.
Assess the Practice
According to CAPC board member Rick Marrinson, DVM, improving client compliance starts at the top, meaning what is the practice’s philosophy on parasite control? Has the clinic made parasite control a priority? Do team members buy into the philosophy, and do they have the training and resources to promote the messaging?
Once parasite control and prevention are priorities, then policies, protocols and procedures must be maintained. One might argue that the absence of continuity across the practice significantly increases stress and reduces success.
Here’s how to help clients protect their pets every month of the year:
- Limit the inventory on hand. Choose one heartworm preventive that the practice endorses. It’s the product you stock and sell. A consolidated inventory allows the team to be more consistent in its recommendations.
- Attach an online store to your website. Businesses must adapt to the growing consumer demand to shop online. Having an online store allows you to be where your client is. It also permits you to sell brands absent from your clinic shelves. While veterinary professionals should start with their ideal, No. 1 solution, Dr. Marrinson said, they must be flexible enough to give clients what they want and need.
- Use your client reminder system to its full potential. Send reminders when a preventive needs administering and additional reminders when a refill is due. Busy clients will appreciate such a simple service that costs you almost no time or money once it is set up.
- Forward-book appointments to make sure the next heartworm test is scheduled.
- Reward success. Clinics have many ways to recognize clients for a job well done, one of which is through a loyalty program. A smartphone app can make tracking fun and easy for everybody.
- Keep everything simple and convenient. This approach might mean offering a one-and-done injectable preventive or an auto-ship option. Clients like easy things.
- Create a culture that fosters team satisfaction and fulfillment. Practice protocols always fall short if team members don’t feel supported by management.
Assess the Team
So, the veterinary team buys into the philosophy that broad-spectrum parasite prevention is critically important. But are team members prepared to promote the philosophy?
The practice would be wise to carve out time for staff training, not just on parasites and preventives, but also on communication styles and interpersonal skills. Veterinary medicine is a service industry. One must understand not only the service provided and the people receiving it but also how to bridge the gap.
Miki Court, a veterinary industry consultant and parasite expert of over 30 years, appreciates the difference between communication and connection. Communication is delivering words, but connections go deeper. Clients might perceive something they see as more important than something they can’t. If they can’t see a tapeworm, then it doesn’t exist, leaving them with money to spend on something more fun. A team member who is relatable and communicates effectively can help clients determine their needs. If we can connect with the client’s why, Court said, then we improve not only compliance but also adherence, the likelihood that the client will administer the purchased medication.
Every practice, team member, client and pet wins when the staff is trained on these skills. The investment is worthwhile.
Assess the Client
Not every pet owner is the same. They range from those who own an outside dog to people who identify as “pet parents” and sleep with the animal. They differ in lifestyle and socioeconomic status. They lead busy lives. No matter how much they love their pets, giving a dose of prevention every 30 days might be on page 6 of their to-do list.
That said, pet owners come to you for support. They need help processing and executing the support you offer, although you should not assume they buy into everything you say. Have reasonable expectations of the client.
Whether your practice is relationship-based or not, building a connection with pet owners and earning their trust is possible. Trust goes a long way in achieving cooperation. Be patient with clients and remember that they don’t know what you know. Slow the communication and listen to find out if clients are with you. Start at the beginning — for instance, remind them that they won’t see heartworms in a pet’s feces.
People learn and retain information differently — some visually, some auditorily — so blend active and passive messaging while pet owners are visiting and when they aren’t. Repetitive exposure to your message that year-round prevention is essential will increase the client’s acceptance and participation.
Also, consider the economic impact on the client. Dr. Marrinson suggests making a 12-month supply of heartworm prevention the best option economically instead of a six-month supply or even a one-month dose. Cost is a driving factor for consumers.
Assess the Data
The final part of improving client compliance is monitoring the data. Track behavior to find out if clients accept your recommendations. It’s the best indicator of your clinic’s performance.
A plethora of data is available. Don’t be scared. The data shows what your practice is doing well and what needs to improve. Some vendor partners offer no-cost compliance monitoring. Others sell robust analytics for very reasonable fees. Either way, you’ll receive insight and guidance on interpreting the data and possibly enhancing your approach.
A Year-Round Campaign
Heartworm prevention isn’t seasonal or regional. It’s crucial at all times and all across the country. The CAPC has amazing interactive maps — visit capcvet.org — that zoom to the county level. People and pets are on the move, putting parasites on the move, too.
As a practice management consultant, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the economic upside of greater client compliance with parasite medications. A part of sustained practice health is making sure clients successfully execute your recommendations. The pet ultimately wins when it has a happier, healthier and longer life.
When assessing your clinic’s approach to client compliance, consider these four areas: the practice, the team, the client and the data. The chances of protecting more pets rise significantly when you have consistent messaging from the practice, a well-trained team, realistic expectations of the client and data that measures success.