Louise S. Dunn
Louise S. Dunn, a former practice manager, is a speaker, writer and founder of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, which provides technical assistance to practice teams to meet their strategic plans. She attended Hartford College for Women, Trinity College and AAHA’s Veterinary Management Institute at Purdue University. She is Fear Free certified.Read Articles Written by Louise S. Dunn
As COVID-19 ravaged society and pet owners hunkered down, some veterinary patients fell off the radar. Now is the time as the pandemic ebbs in the United States to get lapsed patients back on track with routine wellness care — specifically, vaccinations. What you shouldn’t do is load the schedule with random (any and all) vaccine appointments if your practice remains in the throes of scheduling issues such as reduced hours, skeleton crews and, to allow for cleaning, longer appointment slots.
Consultant, author and lecturer Lowell Ackerman, DVM, DACVD, MBA, MPA, CVA, MRCVS, calls vaccines a commodity.
“Veterinary hospitals deliver value by customizing vaccine selection based on risk assessment,” Dr. Ackerman said. “Providing pet-specific recommendations is the best way to increase compliance and minimize vaccine hesitancy since it considers the specific needs of the pet and is not just a species-wide directive.”
In other words, don’t simply contact client after client using a report printed from your practice information management system. Instead, be strategic in luring past-due pet owners.
Target Specific Pets
Before you print the PIMS report, spend time formulating a plan to identify at-risk patients. This group might vary depending on the type of practice you operate. Do you see a high number of newly homed pets or animals with a common medical condition? Do you offer boarding and grooming? Maybe your practice sees more sporting and hunting dogs, or only cats. Do you practice in a rural community rather than a city? The point is that one clinic might identify a different at-risk group compared with a hospital 30 miles away, so determine your target pets.
Another idea is to cross-reference the data search to include pets with specific diagnostic codes or those receiving other services.
Kathryn Primm, DVM, CVPM, of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, recommends identifying dogs whose puppy vaccine series was incomplete, especially if they missed a shot for the highly contagious parvovirus. Also, look for pets that require vaccine modifications due to medical conditions or age.
By strategically identifying at-risk, past-due patients, the hospital can control the number of vaccine appointments and client messaging. Rather than saying, “Fluffy is past due, so please call us to schedule,” you can say, “We consider Fluffy to be at risk due to … and we want to offer you our available vaccine time slots.”
Being strategic controls chaos. It reduces the chance of telling clients that an appointment time isn’t available this month after you left a message inviting them to schedule one. It addresses the needs of the most vulnerable patients, and it mitigates the stress imposed on team members when clients suddenly can’t get in.
What’s in Your Toolbox?
Take a moment to consider the client whose pet is past due for a vaccine. Many pet owners now work from home, home-school their children or work odd hours. For them, one more phone call to answer or one more voicemail to return is not in the cards that day. The mailed reminder card sits at the bottom of the to-do pile. The cellphone message box is full. Taking a call during a Zoom business meeting is not happening.
How can a practice reach these clients to inform them about lapsed vaccines and make scheduling the appointment easy? The answer is digital communication tools. At the same time, you need to consider your team members. High-risk employees need the proper tools to do their job from home.
Two things you can do are:
- Set up a team member to send text, email and push notifications from home or the veterinary practice. The person is responsible for monitoring client responses and scheduling the pet’s appointment.
- Upgrade to real-time scheduling through your practice website or mobile app. That way, a client can claim a vaccine appointment slot immediately rather than request a time and then wait for a callback.
Any of the various communication tools on the market will help a practice reach clients most conveniently. In the end, pets most at-risk get needed vaccine protection, and the bevy of communication options benefits your clients, the team and the business.
Before COVID-19, one of the economic issues facing veterinary practices was competition from vaccine clinics hosted by big-box stores and pet supply retailers. These pop-up clinics typically do not send text reminders, nor do they engage with clients through social media.
Eric D. Garcia, founder of Simply Done Tech Solutions, said stronger bonds are forged with pet owners when digital tools such as text messages, email, push notifications and real-time scheduling are used. When incorporated into a brick-and-mortar clinic’s marketing program, such platforms help showcase the practice’s level of medicine.
Another lesson comes from the retail approach to attracting customers. According to consultant Bruce L. Truman, MBA, of BLT Technology & Innovation Group, big-box retailers prioritize convenience, price transparency and engagement — qualities absent from some traditional veterinary practices. The retailers make it easy for pet owners to shop online and compare prices and services.
Frustration builds among pet owners who cannot get information immediately from their veterinary hospital — unless they’re happy to call during office hours and speak to someone or wait for a callback. Big-box retailers attract hordes of pet owners looking for vaccinations since comparing prices and scheduling appointments online is easy.
During the pandemic, many veterinary hospitals got creative in how they communicated with clients and provided services. That’s good! Different methods were tried (curbside and telemedicine), standard operating procedures were changed (asynchronous visits and employee work-from-home options), and fan favorites were developed.
Not everything needs to continue post-pandemic, but some of the most successful changes should be incorporated. The litmus test is whether the change improves patient care, enables exceptional client service and enhances team performance. If the answer is yes, then continued use is a must.
Focusing on wellness care is essential as the veterinary industry moves through 2021. Prioritizing lapsed vaccine patients will be a win-win for pets and practices if clinic leaders plan strategically and use more efficient digital communication.