There's no such thing as a 'rabies visit'

July 20, 2017

Don't give up on a patientor a pet owner. Every exam room visit is an opportunity to cherish and optimize a patient's health with needed vaccines, recommended diagnostics and care for problems a pet owner didn't even know the pet was facing. Here's how Dr. Ernie Ward makes the most out of what looks like a cursory visit.

Forget it, buddy. I love you and your pet too much to make this a rabies-only visit. Let's DO THIS!Ernie Ward, DVM, is on the board of Mission Rabies, so he's certainly not immune (see what we did there?) to the importance of rabies vaccinations. But he also gets positively rabid when veterinarians give up on these rabies-only appointments when it comes to client education and the client-veterianarian bond. Here's what he recommends for the veterinary team in the exam room when it comes to so-called "single-vaccine visits":

1. Overcome that mindset

"I was with a colleague not too long ago who called these 'single-vaccine visits,'" Dr. Ward says. "He even used the acronym SVV. He and the team had an entire habit that changed their language and approach."

Clients who are on the receiving end of this approach, of course, don't see value in a visit to your hospital: They're rushed in and out, pay their $20 (or whatever) and get nothing but a vaccine. "They're not invited to further engage with your services," he says.

2. Approach every visit the same

"Even if the patient is only there for a rabies vaccine, it's still my job to be the patient advocate," Dr. Ward says. "I give at least a cursory free exam. I look the animal over. I mention a possible allergic reaction or let the pet owner know the ears could use better hygiene. Sometimes these pets come in with an obvious problem, an open wound or a healing laceration, and I ask, 'Hey, what happened here? Looks like there's a scar maybe on the side?' I show I'm concerned about the animal and the client."

You're not bad if the pet owner says 'No!'

Veterinarians can feel inadequate if enough pet owners, day in, day out, just say no, no, NO to every question or suggestion about preventive care.

But you're not inadequate, says Dr. Ward: "You've gotta jettison that belief. This isn't necessarily a reflection on your personality or communication skills." Some pet owners will only take the bare minimum, and that's OK, he says.

"Not everybody is going to do everything I recommend or everything their pet needs," he says. People have the right to go without veterinary care.

"Be grateful for the clients who change their minds," he says. "Be grateful for the clients who go the extra mile and follow your recommendations and do all that blood work."

3. Ask your favorite preventive-care question

Whatever it is you're into, ask: What kind of heartworm preventive is the dog on? What flea preventive does the cat use? Is the puppy spayed?

"In our area, heartworm is at the top of our list," Dr. Ward says. "I'm going to ask what heartworm preventive they're using. I know already, it's probably nothing. Maybe they got something at the feed store and administer off-label, so it's a great opportunity to let them know that ivermectin is in a concentrated form for cattle and can cause liver failure and death in a dog."

Maybe, with that little bit of education, the pet owner will switch to something safer.

4. Leave an invitation

"At the very end, I find a nice way to say, 'I know today you were only here for a specific vaccine, but I want you to feel comfortable coming back. If there's anything we can do to help Buster, here's my business card, just keep it on file.' That may be all that person needs to feel welcome."

A pet owner who comes in only for a rabies vaccine visit can't help but get some education, even a little free education, from smart folks like veternarians.

"Over time, if you're welcoming and give that invitation, some of these people will come back and do more," Dr. Ward says. "Suddenly, Buster gets sick, and this farmer who's only come for rabies vaccines for 10 years tells you, 'I don't care what it takes.' And he means it."