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.
Many Happy Returns
Getting past-due patients back into the clinic for vaccinations is best done by identifying the pets most at risk of disease.
Target Specific PetsBefore 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.