Parasite control: It's in the mail


Brochures let us explain the technical aspects of parasite-related diseases, the tests to detect them, and the products to control them. Maybe some of our ideas could work for you too.

Those of you who are old enough to remember, think back to the early 1990s—when Seinfeld's TV ratings were soaring and President Bill Clinton was settling into the White House. While not as glamorous, that's also when most of us in the veterinary healthcare world started using the occult heartworm test instead of the Knott's filter test. At about that same time, a multitude of heartworm preventives and flea control products hit the market, changing the way we practice medicine.

Beyond brochures

Because of this product influx, our practice felt the need to educate our clients, explain the heartworm life cycle, discuss the two heartworm tests, and point out the differences among the heartworm and flea products available. In order to educate our clients effectively over the last 13 years, our clinic has expanded on the typical reminder card and put special emphasis on annual heartworm and flea reminders. During that time, we've come a long way in the design and overall look of our reminders. Instead of the typical 3-by-5 postcard from the dark ages, we create brochures to mail to clients. These brochures let us thoroughly explain the technical aspects of parasite-related diseases, the tests to detect them, and the products to control them. Maybe some of our ideas could work for you too.

Getting started

Let's take heartworm disease, for example. In our brochure, we list each preventive individually with bullet points explaining its benefits. We include information such as how it's administered (chewable, tablet, topical, etc.), which intestinal parasites it controls, how often it's given, and so on. We also list the prices for each product and what the client can expect to pay for a year's worth of preventive. At the end of the brochure, we include a call to action, encouraging the client to visit the practice for an appointment and purchase the product of his or her choice. This way, the doctor and the educated client make a decision together—which we've found increases client buy-in and compliance. When deciding on a product, we take into account the client's individual circumstances: other pets, geographical location, and financial limitations.

Hey, Mr. Postman: Brochures like this one double as a mailer to help you stay in touch with clients.

After we sent the brochure out to our client base the first time, we immediately noticed an increase in our clients' heartworm IQ. They came in for an appointment, had the test of their choice performed, and requested the product they wanted based on the information in the brochure. The brochure gives the client a chance to evaluate the benefits of each product—and weigh the benefits against the cost—in the comfort of his or her home. Too often we ask clients to make split decisions in the exam room, so mailing this brochure saves us a lot of time. And we always keep extra brochures on hand so we can educate new clients. Our whole team understands that most clients can prioritize each product's benefits based on their concerns.

This is just like ordering a pizza—really. I decide what topping I want on my pizza, but if the sausage is really spicy, I appreciate it if the waiter lets me know. Clients are the same way; they may hate administering pills but are OK with a topical medication. Based on our discussion, the client and the doctor agree on what fits the client's concerns and needs. Clients love this approach. After they make a decision, we validate it.

Creating the brochure

We use a marketing company to create our materials, but just about anyone can design a brochure for you. Check out some advertising or marketing agencies, or find a clever individual who can design something that suits your needs—and be sure to communicate your budget. Someone on your team can do it if he or she can shoot a few photos of puppies and use publishing software. Some companies sell boilerplate reminders so you can just plug in your logo and you're ready to go. Mailing the brochures first- class will ensure that undeliverable items are sent back to your office so that you can refresh your database.

Every year we update our brochure and its layout. One year we told the story of Barney, a mixed-breed dog who underwent heartworm treatment at our hospital. Barney narrated his story and described what his experience with heartworms was like.

The next year, the brochure discussed Internet pharmacies and compared our prices and benefits to those of the online venues. It reminded clients that products purchased on the Web didn't carry the manufacturers' guarantees or any rebates or specials offered through veterinary clinics.

Our current brochure reminds clients of three things:

1) When it's time for the dog's heartworm test.

2) What's involved in an occult heartworm test.

3) The flea and heartworm products available and their price ranges.

We also list manufacturers' rebates and offer a heartworm profile package, which includes a CBC and eight serum biochemistry tests performed by an outside lab. We point out that our physicians recommend yearly blood work profiles for us—pets shouldn't be different. A yearly profile on a pet gives us baseline results to compare to future diagnostics. This may allow us to discover developing diseases early in the process and improve the pet's prognosis.

A special case

Sometimes we tailor our marketing efforts to address specific problems we're seeing. For example, we've recently had an inordinate number of cats with heartworm disease—nine in a 12-month period—and many, unfortunately, were diagnosed postmortem. So we sent out a direct mail piece that made a compelling case for clients to put their cats on a heartworm preventive. It listed the benefits of prevention and encouraged clients to call us for more information.

In 2007, our heartworm brochure evolved into a 5.5-by-8.5-inch card that we personalize for each client. It includes the client's and the pet's name and the name of our clinic. The cards are eye-catching and difficult for clients to ignore. The modernization of printing procedures makes this personalized card easy to send and extremely effective. The best part: We don't handle the printing or mailing. We simply e-mail our database to a third party and they handle the entire process.

Secrets of success

Find a topic you're passionate about and make a strong case for that service or product. You can create brochures about dentistry, senior health profiles, and even leptospirosis. Here's how:

  • Keep the content limited to one or two topics—any more than that and your message will get lost. And don't make it too wordy.

  • List the benefits of the service or product, keeping your descriptions simple and persuasive. Use bullet points to list the benefits—no more than five.

  • Include a call to action: "Please call our clinic to set up an appointment for an evaluation and consultation."

  • Mail your literature on a timely basis. Materials about flea and tick control should mail in the spring; heartworm reminders should mail all year long.

We've shared our direct-mail strategies with colleagues, but we often hear that they don't have time to contact a marketing company or they struggle with the process of producing and mailing a personalized brochure. However, we've seen the benefits of such campaigns firsthand. So take the time to explore these options and move forward. I know they'll save you time, educate your clients, and increase compliance—and that keeps your patients, as well as your practice, healthy.

Dr. Philip VanVranken

Dr. Philip VanVranken is the managing owner of Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich. Send your comments to

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