4 recommendations your veterinary clients ignore


When veterinary clients bury their heads in the sand, they miss important recommendations. Here's how to get their attention.

Mrs. Cares Alot (not her real name) visits the practice of Dr. Ernie Ward (yes, his real name) every few weeks with a dog that suffers from weight-related health problems. She understands the importance of helping her pet lose weight, and she's compliant with recommendations. But her husband constantly sabotages her efforts. Recently, she brought him to the practice in the hopes that he'd believe the message if he heard it from the veterinarian.

"As I'm talking about my concerns about the pet's weight, he's rolling his eyes and making exasperated sounds. He's not engaged at all. He doesn't want to hear this. And he doesn't think it's a problem," Dr. Ward says.

You've seen these clients in your own practice. When they ignore your recommendations, it's easy to feel frustrated, concerned for the pet, and even hurt. You won't win over everyone, but with patience and persistence, you can woo some of your more reluctant clients to offer the care you recommend. Consider these common recommendations and explore how to soar over the obstacles in your path.

No. 1: Avoid the treats

Saboteurs can take many forms: the neighbor with pockets bulging from dog biscuits who ambushes your client on nightly dog walks. The bank teller, the toll booth worker—anyone who wants to appreciate your portly pooch with a tasty treat. And if the kitty cat is out in the great outdoors, she might be scoping out the neighbor's houses for food bowls—an all day-buffet that never closes.

What to do:

When your client tells you she's following your every guideline and yet her precious pet keeps packing on the pounds, it's time for a little detective work. Dr. Ward says his doctors have written a note for the friendly neighbor asking her to please not feed the dog because it's bad for the pup's health. It's also a good idea to explain to clients that what their pets really crave is attention. So they can remind their friends and family that pats and play beat out treats—paws down—every time. And the next time pet owners want to show their love, they can reach for the leash, the toy, or the laser pointer instead of diving into the cookie jar.

No. 2: Stop the table scraps

Your littlest clients are professional mess makers. Kiddos have the capacity to wreck even the healthiest pet's diet. When they drop food from their high chairs, Fido thinks it's raining Cheerios—and he's an eager vacuum ready to scoop up these morsels.

What to do:

Dr. Ward says it's important to help parents teach their children. Kids may view their pets as siblings, so it may be difficult for them to understand why Trixie can't enjoy a scoop of soft serve when ice cream's on the menu. Counseling children about an appropriate diet will help keep pets slimmer—and also ward off negative reactions to foods that could be harmful to our furred friends.

No. 3: Make pain accommodations

The second Mr. Johnson steps out your door, he and his pooch disappear from your thoughts—until they reappear in your practice six months or a year later. The result: You never hear whether Rover's getting the pain medication you sent home after his surgery or whether Bitty Kitty's getting the diet you recommended to ease the sting of her osteoarthritis.

What to do:

Follow up, says Sharon DeNayer, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo. When you offer Rover a new medicine or diet, make sure you call the pet owner in the next 24 to 48 hours. At Windsor Veterinary Clinic, the technician who assisted with the pet's care performs the followup call. This simple step can help you uncover the issues the client is struggling with and offer solutions to make sure the pet gets the pain relief it so desperately needs. If client reports that the pet is throwing up the medication, you can take that information back to the doctor and figure out whether the medication can be given differently.

DeNayer says the followup also demonstrates the importance of your recommendation to clients. After all, you wouldn't spend the time to check in with them if you didn't believe their pets needed this care.

No. 4: Use parasite prevention

Sometimes your clients just don't get it. Perhaps they were distracted by their pet when you were trying to explain the importance of monthly parasite preventives. Maybe they just don't believe their dog or cat could ever be a victim of heartworm infection.

What to do:

Get real. This doesn't mean scaring them, but it does mean you'll have to work on offering recommendations in several different ways—and it is more work. Each member of the healthcare team, from the receptionist to the technician to the veterinarian, needs to talk about parasites and zoonotic diseases, says Julie Legred, the veterinary technician program specialist for Banfield and a technician board member for CAPC. It also means you offer handouts and brochures for clients to take home so they can take in your message.

"Clients aren't always going to be picking up the message we think we're presenting," Legred says. "And a lot of times, clients will go home, do an Internet search, and find something completely off the wall. So it's important for us to be diligent and follow up with clients. And they need to have access to the right information at home. We have a lot of things working against us, and we need to come together as a team and get the same message across."

Repeat, repeat, repeat

So you've made all of these recommendations to Mrs. Maxwell a thousand times before, and you just don't see the sense in wasting your breath at one more wellness exam. Chin up, Dr. Ward says.

"This is when you have to go back to your mission as a veterinary healthcare provider," Dr. Ward says. "Your goal is to help pets live longer, healthier, fuller lives. You want to prevent disease, not just treat it."

It takes a strong person to strike out time after time and still get up to the batter's box, Dr. Ward says. "But when it comes to preventive care, that's really what we're talking about," he says. "People who hear the message repeatedly will often, over time, respond to it. You have to be patient even though you've had this conversation six years running. This time may be the time they actually act on your recommendation."

Portia Stewart is a freelance writer in Lenexa, Kan. Share your compliance tips and struggles at dvm360.com/community.

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