Updates and appointment reminders? Text, please!

May 8, 2019
Maureen McKinney, Associate Editorial Director

dvm360, dvm360 June 2019, Volume 50, Issue 6

When it comes to communicating with your veterinary clients, make sure youre speaking their languagethe language of texting.

'Wait, Dexter, does this poop emoji mean Cuddles' constipation appointment went fine ... or not?'

Why they did it

Pet ownership and expenditures in the United States have been exploding and show no signs of slowing down. According to results from the American Pet Products Association's 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey, 67% of American homes (84.9 million) include at least one pet, and millennials represent the largest pet-owning generation. The authors of this study explored two types of communication between veterinary hospitals and pet owners-medical updates and appointment confirmations-to determine how practices can best meet the needs of their clients.

What they did

An anonymous online survey of pet owners was conducted from Oct. 9 through 29, 2018. Participants had to own a dog and/or a cat as well as a pet that required at least four consecutive hours of hospitalization in the past. Participants were asked how, and how frequently, they were given updates about their hospitalized pet as well as their personal preferences regarding updates. They were also asked whether they'd be willing to pay for updates if their pet were hospitalized. Also included in the survey were questions about actual and preferred methods of communication from the veterinary hospital regarding appointment confirmations.

Of the 1,031 survey respondents, 45% owned a dog, 24% owned a cat, and 32% owned both a dog and a cat-and all had a pet that had to be hospitalized for at least four hours. Most pets had been hospitalized overnight (41%), followed by four to eight hours (35%), two nights (10%) and longer than eight hours but not overnight (7%).

What they found

Medical updates. Most owners (n = 782; 76%) reported that they did receive updates about their pet during hospitalization. Nearly half of those received updates once daily (48%); 40% received twice-daily updates. For most of the remainder, three or more updates were provided per day. The number of updates correlated with the amount of time the pet was hospitalized-the longer the hospitalization, the less frequently the owner was updated.

By and large, owners reported that updates during pet hospitalization were appreciated and important. The update preferences for most owners of pets hospitalized for longer than 24 hours were either every four to six hours (35%) or every two to three hours (27%).

When their pet had been hospitalized in the past, clients reported that updates were provided primarily by phone (90%), but practices also communicated via text (13%), email (5%), video (1%) and “other” ways (3%). The owners' reported communication preferences for receiving updates during hospitalizations were phone call (42%) and text message (38%).

Of those who reported that updates were important to them, more than half said they would be willing to pay an additional percentage of the pet's hospital bill to receive updates: 24% would pay 3%, 20% would pay 5%, and 10% would pay 10%.

Appointment reminders. More than half of the surveyed pet owners currently receive appointment reminders via phone (57%); a quarter (25%) receive reminders via text. But pet owner preferences are actually the reverse: 52% would prefer to receive reminders via text, while 29% would prefer phone calls.

Take-home message

It's clear that when it comes to communication from veterinary hospitals, what pet owners want is not necessarily what they get. A 2014 study revealed that texting is the preferred mode of communication for more than half of Americans under age 50. Surely this number is even larger today.

Because millennials are such a large part of the veterinary practice client base, it's particularly important to meet their communication needs. This group values convenient and accessible communication options. In the 2017 Pet Owner Paths report, younger pet owners chose as one veterinary service they value most the availability of round-the-clock texting and chatting.

To satisfy these clients' desires, more practices need to make texting their priority mode of client communication for pet health updates, appointment reminders and a host of other communications. Bonuses: Client compliance will improve, and your team will spend less time texting than making calls. Furthermore, many pet owners place enough value on receiving updates when their pet is hospitalized that they'd pay a premium for the service. (You can even have some fun with it.) This could be one way that practices can be reimbursed for the extra time and effort of communication updates like these.

Reference

1. Kogan L, Schoenfeld R, Santee S. Medical updates and appointment confirmations: pet owners’ perceptions of current practices and preferences. Front Vet Sci 2019;6:80.

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