Innovation Station guest columnist Jess Trimble, DVM, is the chief veterinary officer for the Anipanion veterinary telemedicine platform. She speaks and consults on telehealth implementation in clinical practice, served on the task force for the 2021 AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice, and is passionate about how new technologies can improve veterinary team members’ lives and increase access to care.Read Articles Written by Jess Trimble
As a veterinarian who helps practices integrate telehealth into their daily workflows, I understand what works and what doesn’t. When I ask clinic owners about the challenges they faced in starting a telehealth program, I often get the same answer: “I wish I had started marketing it months before I started providing it.” Paying for an amazing telehealth platform gets you nowhere if your clients don’t know how and when to use it or that you even have it.
Introducing and promoting a digital service — especially one that significantly changes the behavior of your clients and team — isn’t as simple as marketing a new product. Habit change takes months to accomplish, so understand that you’re in for the long haul.
Based on my conversations with veterinarians who have successfully implemented telehealth, these nine strategies work well.
1. Share Success Stories
Storytelling is a great way to market a service and speak to your mission and the value of telehealth. If the story appears on your clinic’s blog, you improve the practice’s search engine optimization and increase its online credibility. For example, “We now offer virtual visits” isn’t nearly as appealing as “We provide virtual visits to make sure our clients’ pets receive convenient, high-quality health care, even from home.”
“When Mrs. Smith thought Sparky had a bone caught in his throat and wanted to take him to the ER,” one story might read, “she first sent us a video through our app. We were quickly able to tell that Sparky was reverse sneezing, most likely from his allergies. Great news: Sparky is doing great, and Mrs. Smith was able to skip the trip (and bill!) at the ER.”
2. Create Scripts
Your team members are the best marketers. If you want to push specific cases to telehealth, give the staff a few prepared lines to make the messaging easy and consistent. For example, say you want to push all your behavior visit rechecks to telehealth.
- Veterinary nurses: “I’m going to ask you questions now to learn more about Fido’s behavior, and before the next visit, I’m going to send you these questions to fill out ahead of time through our telehealth app. We’d like you to download our app now so that I can send you any notes or information from today. If you have any questions today or in the future — even unrelated to today’s visit — you can start a chat and ask us anything. If there is a question that requires the medical team, we charge $X for a consult.”
- Veterinarian: “You’re always welcome to come in, but we do find that our telehealth service is great for anxious dogs like Fido, as he won’t even know he’s having a visit. If he has other medical issues, you can use the telehealth service to chat with the medical team before coming in.”
- Front desk: “I sent a copy of the bill to you in the app. Let’s go ahead and get the next three televisits scheduled so we can make sure Fido is on the right track. Don’t forget to send us a message in the app if you have any questions.”
3. Put It on Paper
Post fliers in your exam rooms, add a reminder at the bottom of paperwork and postcards, slip a small card into go-home bags, and print business cards with promo codes and leave them on the front desk. The more places clients see the reminder to use telehealth, the more likely they will remember when they genuinely need it. The old “Marketing Rule of 7” states that consumers must hear or see a message at least seven times before they use the advertised product. So don’t be afraid to splash your messaging all around.
4. Involve the Entire Team
Not only does this strategy help reinforce the topic with clients, but your team members will appreciate the solidarity. Change is easier if everyone helps — from kennel assistants to practice managers. Telehealth isn’t just about medical care. It’s the kennel assistant sending photos of boarded dogs. It’s the front desk sending estimates and links to the online pharmacy. It’s the veterinary nurses gathering history and explaining discharges. It’s about any electronic communication. Make sure all team members have scripts and understand how they can support telehealth.
5. Collect Testimonials
Stories matter! Testimonials build credibility and trust, which is even more critical when asking clients to try something new. Testimonials that show how telehealth fixed a pain point or overcame an obstacle, like cost issues or a pet’s fear of the veterinarian, are better than a client’s simple confirmation of a great service. Multiple testimonials addressing multiple pain points are ideal.
6. Send Personalized Email
Rather than blasting pet owners with the generic message “We offer a telehealth service. Download here,” send targeted emails to groups of clients whose animals have certain signalments and suggest use cases. For instance:
- “Pets over age 10 are likely to have arthritis. Schedule a telehealth visit today to talk about the signs of arthritis and which supplements can help.”
- “Does your cat vomit occasionally, but you’re not sure if you need to come in? Schedule a virtual consult to understand how to determine the cause.”
- “Ask us all your puppy questions. Schedule a telehealth visit to chat about potty training, vaccine schedules, socialization and how to raise the perfect puppy.”
7. Launch Social Media Campaigns
Using social outlets like Facebook and Instagram can be great ways to drop reminders about your telehealth program, offer promo codes, share testimonials and tell success stories. Highlighting a staff member with each post to ensure your clients realize they’re speaking with people they know and trust.
8. Don’t Forget Your Website
Make sure a link to your telehealth platform is on your homepage, but don’t stop there. For every service you offer, offer telehealth as a potential add-on or starting point. Many pet owners don’t know which conditions or situations are best for telehealth, so explain these in the service descriptions. In addition, adding a lower-friction entry point might make people more comfortable with scheduling a telehealth appointment. For example: “We offer spay and neuter services for your pets. If you’re unsure about the right time to neuter your pet, how the process works or have other questions about spay and neuter, schedule a telehealth consult with our team. Click here!” Nearly all medical conditions can involve telehealth somehow, so be sure to include a brief explanation of how the service will make your clients’ lives easier and their pets’ health better.
9. Make Telehealth the Standard
Want to go big? Give your clients no other choice but to open the app in certain situations. Saying “You can use the app or just send an email” allows clients to default to a familiar communication tool: email. On the other hand, consider saying, “Fido’s neuter recheck will be at 10 a.m. Thursday through our app. Our front desk staff is happy to help you download it now.” You might get pushback, but polite firmness about your new way of doing things will quickly get most clients on board.
Telehealth will not solve all of the veterinary profession’s problems, but it can make workflow more efficient, reduce phone calls, improve client relationships and communication, and enhance access to care. The world has come to expect digital communication. Unfortunately, anyone not making the conversion will be left behind in dusty stacks of paper files.
Visit bit.ly/3m2B8Jy to read and download the 2021 AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice. Among the tips peppering the document is this one: “Ask for a trial period for the technology you are considering. Most vendors will be happy to let you try the system before committing to buy.”