In it for the long haul


Long-term drug monitoring doesn't have to be a hassle for you or your clients. With creativity and flexibility, you can win the chance to monitor your patients.

Long-term drug monitoring, once alien territory to many veterinarians, has now become a standard of care for the profession. Not only does it preserve pets' best interest, it's a great way to connect with clients. You can ensure pets' long-term health and well-being, and even detect disease before it becomes serious, by providing vigilant long-term monitoring.

Whenever Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Ernest Ward Jr., owner of Seaside Animal Clinic in Calabash, N.C., prescribes a long-term medication, he gives clients a handout highlighting the drug's common side effects. The key, he says, is the follow-up section on the back of the form. This helps clients remember when they need to bring their pets back to the clinic for blood tests. "It's a nice way to tie up the whole appointment," Dr. Ward says.

The form also helps educate clients about potential problems. Dr. Ward tells clients to post the form on the fridge. If they notice any of the listed side effects or anything else unusual, they know to call him. You do harm, Dr. Ward says, if you don't educate clients about what to look for and the pet's health suddenly starts declining.

Make it easy

Dr. Ward and his team charge for long-term monitoring on a per-visit basis. And they make sure to keep it affordable and accessible so it's easy for clients to come back again and again. Dr. Ward offers two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, for clients to set up their appointments and he gets some extra help during those times. "Otherwise we'd suddenly have five long-term drug patients compounding a busy day," he says. Dr. Ward hired a semi-retired team member to process blood tests on those days, and about 85 percent of his long-term drug patients take advantage of the Tuesday-Thursday offering.

One of Dr. Ward's favorite aspects of long-term monitoring is the chance to catch underlying diseases early on. "I've had cases where, if we hadn't been doing routine blood work, we wouldn't have found these problems," he says. "It fits in beautifully with our senior care program. I'm amazed when I get blood tests back on a patient that has been fine for two years but suddenly shows evidence of a secondary emerging condition that might have gone unnoticed."

With long-term drug patients, Dr. Ward won't refill a prescription until the client comes in for a follow-up test—a major compliance booster. "We have to be resolute and understand that these drugs have potential side effects," he says. "It's hard to justify our care if something goes wrong with the pet's health." Communicating with the client in a nonthreatening, compassionate manner also goes a long way in increasing compliance.

Remember that while it's important to verbally explain a drug regimen, giving the client a handout reinforces what you've said. "Too often we rely on the spoken word," Dr. Ward says. "For us, this is a nice combination of spoken and written instruction, and it ensures that the message gets through loud and clear."

A handout that lists side effects of common long-term pet medications helps clients realize the importance of follow-up testing. Visit the Forms section of to download a copy.

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