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Rise to the occasion

Don’t concede the loss of preventive medications to retail giants. A few corrections will get you back on a profitable path.

Rise to the occasion
Identify the barriers and prepare your team to tackle client concerns about year-round preventives.

Why is it that after you spend time educating pet owners about fleas, ticks and heartworms and then recommending one or more preventives, the client either leaves without making a purchase or buys a six-month supply and then goes online or to a big-box retailer for refills? Where is the message breaking down? What can you do to improve client adherence to your recommendations and get pet owners to purchase from your hospital?

For starters, know that you are not alone. Many clients fail to purchase 12 months of prevention even though veterinary teams are consistent with recommending a year’s supply. On average, dog owners purchase only 26 weeks, or six months, of flea and tick preventives. According to studies done by Dr. Robert P. Lavan, only 13% of your clients purchase a full 12 months of coverage.

Knowing that you are “normal” can be nice, but it doesn’t mean having to accept the parasiticide profit center report as “the way it has to be.” When a veterinary practice wants to improve the numbers, a few key steps can be taken.

Where Do You Stand?

First, know the status of your profit center in regard to flea, tick and heartworm (F/T/HW) preventives. After all, you can’t monitor what you don’t measure. F/T/HW should be a profit center listed separately from the pharmacy in your practice information management system and in your financial programs, such as QuickBooks.

Benchmark the numbers to previous years and industry averages. For example, the American Animal Hospital Association’s “Productivity and Financial Pulsepoints, 10th Edition” gives data on F/T/HW revenue as a percentage of total revenue (10.9% average), expense as a percentage of revenue (5.4% average), and the revenue-to-expense ratio (1.9 average). These metrics are an essential starting point, so know what is going on in inventory management and know that the numbers you are looking at are accurate. You may discover incorrect charging for preventives, such as a “1” being used for a single dose and a three-pack. Inventory counts may be off due to inaccurate data entry. Mistakes happen, and there is no point in tackling client purchases if the numbers you are using are inaccurate.

Next, audit your medical records. How many clients requested prescriptions so that they could buy from an online pharmacy? How many made an initial purchase from you and are now past due for the next dosing? How many declined a recommendation that they purchase a preventive?

This is where you might find that documentation is lacking. Some veterinary practices establish a code in their PIMS for online script requests and declines. Producing a report that assesses the frequency of requests and declines is easy. Utilizing the PIMS reminder system helps to track clients who failed to make the next preventive purchase at your hospital. Dig a little deeper and the audit might identify associates who have higher client F/T/HW compliance rates than others. Ask those associates what they say or do as a way to teach everyone on the team what works well with clients. This last part, knowing what to say or do, is enhanced when the team is aware of the common barriers to F/T/HW compliance.

Where Do You Lag?

The second step in capturing more F/T/HW revenue is awareness. That is, know the typical barriers. For instance:

  • Dosing intervals. Often, shorter intervals between doses lower client compliance because the pet owner forgets or considers the dosing a hassle if the pet fights it.
  • Remembering the message. Dr. Lavan’s study showed that only 62% of clients recalled hearing a 12-month recommendation.
  • Competitive pricing. Having higher markups and ignoring manufacturer incentives can raise the prices you charge to clients and drive them to other retail sources.
  • Lack of a hospital online pharmacy. E-commerce statistics from Packaged Facts show that 40% of pet owners like to purchase pet products online.

Additionally, practices located in the Northeastern United States have a specific issue to battle — client perception that year-round protection isn’t needed.

Reminders Help

Now that you know the likely barriers, it’s time to train your team.

The dosing interval — whether monthly or every three or six months — doesn’t seem as though it should be a problem, but it is. Studies have shown that clients are more compliant when the treatment interval is longer. Now, this isn’t to say a practice must change the F/T/HW preventives kept in stock, but it does mean your clients might not be good at adhering to your recommendations because they have too many excuses for avoiding more frequent dosing.

Awareness is key here. If your numbers show low adherence, you will want to address this stumbling block. Consider reminders, or look at apps that allow the veterinary team to set up alerts for clients. (Some apps notify the practice when the client fails to acknowledge an alert and might not have given a medication dose.)

Poor communication is always one of the culprits when addressing why someone isn’t following your recommendations. We have all heard about the importance of body language, tone and word choice.

One practice utilized a recording device (with signed approvals from team members and clients) to evaluate communication in the exam room. Not looking at the client, shrugging one’s shoulders, making statements such as “If you want, you could” or “I know it is expensive, but it does protect” are all detrimental to the preventive message. Some team members did not mention preventives during the exam.

Everyone can improve their communication. Take time to educate your team. Provide scripts or key points to cover with clients, and practice what to say when a barrier is thrown in the way of F/T/HW compliance.

The Price Is Right

Competitive pricing can be difficult because the profit margin is so narrow on F/T/HW preventives. Matching the prices of online companies might be a non-starter; the veterinary industry went down that road years ago.

Still, your failure to promote incentives offered by manufacturers can hurt in-hospital sales. If your team doesn’t mention a rebate or free dose until after the bill is created, you might have missed a sale. Some manufacturers provide free doses to be given while the pet is in the exam room. Under the theory of reciprocity, receiving a free dose might encourage a client to purchase a six-month supply.

Chewy and Amazon are the well-known competitors of veterinary hospitals, but why? Because today’s consumer demands convenience in addition to great pricing.

What can you do? Make technology your friend and use it to improve the convenience factor at your hospital. Have your team walk through what your clients must do to refill an F/T/HW preventive. Are a lot of steps required? Do delays occur while approvals are sought? Does the client have to go to the hospital to pick up a refill? Any of these can be a barrier for a client.

Consider establishing an online pharmacy. Set up auto-reminders, auto-refills and auto-ship from your online pharmacy. Also, when the client is in the exam room and agrees to your recommendation, enter the script for the preventive into your online pharmacy. This way, the client will receive an email from your online pharmacy and follow the link to complete the order. This serves as both a reminder and barrier removal.

Focus on 12

Lastly, the perception that year-round preventives are not necessary is a large barrier. Your team needs to have the fine art of communication down pat. Lapses in compliance often lead to parasiticide treatment failure, so educate pet owners about it.

No one can predict Mother Nature, so prepare your team to discuss how frequently they see ticks in cold weather or to talk about the lifecycle of the indoor flea. Give your team the information they need to break down perception barriers.

Once you implement an action plan to overcome common barriers, set up a time to review your metrics to see what worked and what changed. The ability to change client behavior is well within your reach, but you need to identify the barriers and prepare your team to tackle client concerns about year-round preventives. You also must ease client purchasing of preventives from you and your highly trusted veterinary team.

Louise S. Dunn is a speaker, writer and founder of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting. She is Fear Free certified.