Extreme makeover: Parasite edition for team members


Remodel your ho-hum parasite prevention program.

The first one nips at your scruff. You shrug your shoulder to shake it off. The next one hits at your hip. You can't quite hitch your leg high enough to scratch, so you wriggle to shake the pesky itch. This little shimmy sets off a profusion of bites that raises the fur on your back. You whimper more and more as you scratch emphatically but uselessly.

If you've ever winced from a flea's bite or the discovery of a tick lodged in your skin, you've glimpsed the experiences of a parasite-infested pet. Of course, parasites are more than a discomfort and an annoyance. They're a threat to pets' health—and yours. But you know that. You talk about parasites all year, non-stop in the spring and summer. Suppress that here-we-go-again groan. It's time to transform your parasite prevention program from a fixer-upper into a high-end model.

What's it to ya?

You play an integral part in establishing the practice's parasite program. It's true, you're not the owner, but by taking ownership, you improve pets' health and your job satisfaction. "My advice to the team is to be activists," says Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, a practice management consultant in Springboro, Ohio. "Be proactive about talking to clients about parasite prevention and what their pets need."

One item you and your practice need: standards of care. These protocols outline how your practice prevents and treats parasite infections. They're also a valuable training tool that ensures the whole practice team presents clients with a clear, consistent message. While veterinarians are responsible for agreeing on the standards, you can be a leader by offering to put them in writing. By creating a black and white copy, you might just open doctors' eyes. "Many doctors think they have standards of care," Gavzer says, "but when they see them in writing, they learn they're doing things differently."

Talk it up

You may feel like a skipping CD every time you give your parasite spiel. But you must keep your energy up and make sure each client truly hears you. "What's incredibly simple to you is not so simple to the client who only hears about it once a year," Gavzer says. Put yourself in clients' shoes. They're juggling a pet—maybe a child, too—and trying to comprehend a lot of information in a 20-minute appointment. As a result, they're only going to remember 20 percent of what they hear—and they'll misremember some of that. Here are a few tips for getting through to clients.

  • Mix it up. Even though you may be following a script, it's important to keep your parasite communication fresh, Gavzer says. "There's always new information to incorporate," she says.

For instance, you could focus on zoonotic diseases. Explain that some parasites make their way from pets to people, and emphasize the risk of illness. A 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report shows about 14 percent of the U.S. population is infected with roundworms, says Dr. Mike Paul, executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC). "Fortunately, relatively few people develop disease," he says. "But when they do, it's potentially devastating. The question is, what's an acceptable level of risk when we're talking about your kids or grandkids?"

  • Check yourself. Working from a checklist might feel silly when you've discussed parasites ad nauseam. But consider this: Airline pilots fly daily. "Can you conceive of a pilot taking off without going through the checklist?" Gavzer asks. "Lives are at stake in both situations. Clients put their pets' lives in your hands."

So outline the topics to discuss with clients at every visit, including parasites. Technicians will start the discussion during the patient history. The doctor will review the list, covering the next topics. After the exam, the technician can follow up: "The doctor talked to you about heartworm prevention, flea control, and intestinal parasites. She recommends these products. Do you have any questions? Can I get the products ready for you?"

  • Paint a picture. "I'm a big believer in using visual displays because visual trumps audio," Gavzer says. "Seeing something is always more impactful than just hearing about it." Show clients a flea life-cycle chart, for example, or a drawing of the mound of eggs a single flea lays.

  • Follow up. Compliance isn't out of your hands when pet owners leave. Consider calling them with monthly parasite prevention reminders or sending e-mails or text messages. "People with good intentions and busy lives drop a lot of balls," Gavzer says. "We need to give clients all the help we can, and the Internet is a cheap, convenient way to do that."

Practice makes perfect

Every team member needs to get the practice's prevention message down pat and consistently talk to clients about it, says Julie Legred, CVT, a CAPC board member and practice manager at Byron Pet Clinic in Byron, Minn. "Clients should hear the message three to five times before they leave the practice to improve compliance," says Legred, past president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. How do you get ready? Try these ideas.

  • Slice and dice. Legred says the most effective training incorporates a series of modules, one being parasites. For each module, team members complete worksheets, listen to presentations from doctors and technicians, and take a quiz. Once team members pass the module test, they can talk to clients about the topic.

  • Drill skills. Follow-up education is as important as initial training. Have some fun re-learning at a team meeting by tossing a beanbag. The person who throws the bag poses as a client with a question, and the catcher answers the query. Discuss the exchange as a team, doling out praise and suggestions for improvement. Caution: Before you hold a skill drill, warn team members so they can prepare.

To modify a line from Mahatma Gandhi, be the change you want to see in the practice. When you find your passion for parasite prevention, you'll energize your team and safeguard the pets and people your practice serves.

"An advocate keeps the torch lit," Gavzer says. "They make sure that we don't slack off, that we don't stop talking, that we don't get blasé about it. They find ways to make the topic fresh and alive."

Editor's note: Encourage the doctors in your practice to read the May issue of Veterinary Economics, which offers a companion article that helps veterinarians write standards of care—and more.

Portia A. Stewart, a former Firstline editor, is a freelance writer living in Lenexa, Kan. Please send your questions and comments to firstline@advanstar.com

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