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Promoting the value of your veterinary expertise in parasite prevention
Client education is the single-most important tool for maintaining a relationship that draws clients back to your veterinary practice for information on parasite prevention and treatment products.
Client education is the single-most important tool for maintaining a relationship that draws clients back to your veterinary practice for information on parasite prevention and treatment products. In the past, many parasite prevention and treatment products have been sold only through licensed veterinary practices. But in the near future, more of these products will be available over the counter. While consumers may find this an attractive way to purchase products, it may not be best for the client, patient, and veterinarian in the prevention of zoonotic parasitic diseases.
Jay Stewart, DVM
Many veterinarians rely on these products to 1) generate additional revenue for their practices; 2) build relationships with clients; and 3) improve their patients' overall health. As these products become available in retail stores, veterinarians will need to convince clients of the value-added benefits of using a veterinarian as a source of information and a vendor of parasite treatment and prevention products. So we must shift our focus from the retail aspect of the products to the veterinarian-client relationship and the overall health of pets. Many sales may be retained through a good relationship, which includes education and guidance from you and your staff.
DEVELOP AN EDUCATION PROTOCOL AND PROGRAM
Veterinarians need to use their expertise to help clients realize the value-added benefit of their veterinary care in parasite control. This expert guidance is the greatest benefit clients miss out on when purchasing products over the counter. Some practices may choose to reduce their emphasis on parasite control, but if we are to prevent zoonoses and improve animal health, we must instead improve communication between pet owners and veterinarians and their staffs.
At check-in and in the exam room
Routine examinations or vaccinations are a good time to initiate client education about parasite prevention products and begin fostering a veterinarian-client relationship. Veterinary practices should allocate time to discuss the benefits of routine fecal examinations and annual heartworm testing and to answer questions about parasite prevention and treatment. Use this opportunity to also make recommendations on products and treatment schedules. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) (www.capcvet.org) provides clear recommendations for the prevention of internal and external parasites. The CAPC guidelines can be used to help in the process of client education.
Remember that young children and immunocompromised individuals are at increased risk for zoonoses. Be careful not to prejudge which clients may have friends or family members who fall into these categories. Some clients and their pets may interact with at-risk individuals, such as grandchildren or neighbors, who do not live with them. Therefore, be sure to instruct all clients about the importance of parasite prevention to reduce the threat of zoonotic infection. Distributing literature on parasite prevention products at check-in and discussing the topic in the exam room are ideal opportunities for broaching the subject and answering client questions.
In-clinic promotions that encourage client education on parasite treatment and prevention also can strengthen the veterinarian-client relationship and may increase sales. These promotions can be used to bolster pet owner and community education on parasitic infection, prevention and treatment, and environmental control of parasite transmission. Such promotions may be a good opportunity to increase awareness of potential exposure of both pets and people to zoonoses in places of high animal concentration, such as dog parks.
Consider promoting sales of 6- or 12-month supplies of products to help defray the costs for clients and to encourage year-round treatment. It may surprise you how many clients will purchase larger quantities with the incentive of a discount. In addition, use these types of programs to encourage regular fecal examinations and to get patients on a routine wellness examination schedule.
Reminder cards are another excellent way to increase client compliance and to provide a value-added service that will help drive clients into your clinic, rather than to the supermarket. The cards also can be used as a marketing tool to reinforce the importance of parasite prevention. Whatever the delivery method, the ultimate goal of the education process is to integrate parasite prevention and treatment into the overall philosophy of the practice.
DISCUSS THE BENEFITS OF BUYING FROM A VETERINARIAN
Veterinarians must educate clients on the advantages of buying products from their practices. The fact that grocery stores are selling these products may increase their availability but may decrease the overall effectiveness of parasite control because clients may only administer the product to treat an infestation rather than to prevent parasitism. Additionally, clients may not read and follow the manufacturer's instructions, reducing the product's efficacy. For example, some products require administration with food for optimal effect, while others may be affected by bathing. Without additional guidance, clients may not receive any value from a product that they purchase over the counter. They could inadvertently purchase the wrong dose for their pets based on weight, or try to apply a product cross-species, which could reduce the product's efficacy or harm a pet.
Other factors to consider are local conditions and parasite prevalence in a given area. Clients might be unaware of parasitic conditions in their region, leading to the purchase of products that are not suited to the individual needs of their animals. Whereas some regions have a higher prevalence of heartworm infection or flea and tick infestation, other areas may not be affected to such a degree. Additionally, some areas could be more susceptible to seasonal fluctuations in parasite infestation.
Other factors that could be overlooked by clients purchasing products over the counter include the origin of the pet, travel, and the age and nutritional status of the pet. All of these are factors that could influence the safety and efficacy of a product purchased over the counter. In short, veterinarians are the best educated to provide information on parasites, pet health, and prevention of parasitic infection and zoonoses. It is only through careful evaluation of the total environment and health of the animal that the proper product can be selected.
INCLUDE ALL STAFF MEMBERS IN THE PROCESS
Be sure to involve all of your practice staff, including technicians and receptionists, in the client education process. These team members have lots of contact with clients and can initiate conversations about parasite prevention. Then you can follow up by making recommendations for parasite prevention for each patient. The key is to be consistent with the message being presented to clients, to simplify the message, and to ensure that clients realize the value of using you as an information center for decisions about pet care.
To motivate team members to participate in this endeavor, be sure that they are fully trained to discuss parasite prevention and treatment products and that they understand their role in the process. They should support the practice philosophy as much as you do.
Measuring success is an important element in the client education process. This will help demonstrate how well your entire practice is doing with making recommendations and selling products. These measurements could include the number of recommendations that result in product sales, the number of conversions to parasite prevention products, the number of 12-month parasite prevention product packages sold, and the number of fecal examinations performed monthly. Post these results for your staff to review, and reward them for achieving goals.
MAINTAIN THE MOMENTUM
Fostering a practice philosophy and culture that engage clients and staff in the parasite prevention and treatment process takes time and energy. To reap rewards from such a culture, each practice must commit to maintaining the momentum. Revisit protocols annually or semi-annually to determine whether they are effective. If a program is implemented, consider making it a regular program (e.g. annual or monthly). Set aside time for staff training on new developments in parasite prevention and treatment. The goal is to keep parasite prevention and treatment as an ongoing talking point for the entire practice.
The outcomes of this process will be smarter clients, healthier pets, a stronger veterinarian-client relationship, and a reduced threat from over-the-counter sales at retail establishments. Great strides have been made in increasing client awareness of zoonoses through the efforts of organizations such as CAPC. Veterinarians should not let over-the-counter sales derail this progress.
Jay Stewart, DVM
Aumsville Animal Clinic
295 Main St.
Aumsville, OR 97325