Well to-do: How team members tackle client compliance with preventive care


Wellness care isn't a luxury, but you can still give pets red-carpet treatment. Try out these four ideas to improve client compliance and patient health.

Wellness care might not be the sexiest set of services your practice offers, but it's the backbone of most veterinary practices. After all, a solid wellness program keeps both pets and the bottom line healthy. And you play a major role in the program's success, even if you don't have a role in setting your practice's wellness care protocol. "Doctors have to agree on the protocol and then help educate team members and monitor it, but team members are crucial in driving it," says Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, president of Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals in Michigan. Since your practice can't do it without you, here are four ways you can contribute to improving wellness care.

1. Get trained

Clients won't comply with your recommended wellness care if you and your team members aren't clear on the program. Pet owners and team members alike get confused if a veterinarian says certain services are important, for example, and then a veterinary assistant says they're not. So be sure you're in the know by asking whether your practice has a wellness care protocol in place. Then go a step further and ask whether the team—veterinarians included—consistently follows it, advises Dr. Rothstein. (This is especially important if your practice has several doctors on staff.)

A good time to pose these questions is during your practice's regularly scheduled team meetings. To really get the discussion going, follow up with specific queries like these: "Do we all know what vaccines we're recommending, and when?" and "Do we a get stool sample from every pet?" Be sure your practice's written protocol covers the items you talk about and is easy to follow. If you don't have a written protocol, recording the responses to these questions is a smart place to start. This way, you and your team members can refer back to the document and ensure everyone gives clients a consistent message.

To get fully educated about wellness care and the preventive products that go along with it, your practice should take advantage of the knowledge possessed by sales representatives from vendor companies, says Peggy Bentley, LVT, practice manager of the Whittaker Road Animal Clinic in Ypsilanti, Mich. She often invites these sales reps to her practice's monthly staff meetings for "lunch 'n' learn" presentations. "It educates us and helps us market the products, so the information flows off the tongue a little more easily when we're talking to clients," she says. "We're more informed and comfortable in explaining the products that we recommend."

Why is all this training important? "The more the entire staff understands what we do and why we're doing it, the more committed they are," says Dr. Stephanie Romm, owner of Blue Sky Animal Clinic in Loveland, Colo. And the more committed you are, the more likely it is that you'll be able to keep pets healthy through excellent patient care and topnotch client education and service. At Blue Sky's monthly meetings, team members are asked for their input regarding wellness care. They also discuss compliance statistics as a team. And when the clinic schedules training sessions with veterinary specialists, everyone from receptionists to technicians are included. This gets team members excited and provides them talking points so they're comfortable educating clients about recommendations.

2. Talk it up

Educating clients and promoting wellness care services go hand in hand, and both are areas where you can shine. When an appointment starts, veterinary technicians and assistants at Blue Sky explain the importance of services like blood work to clients. Then the doctors reinforce the message by following up. This right-from-the-start approach can help clients feel more comfortable with your practice's recommendations, says Dr. Romm, because, by the time they see the doctor, they're already familiar with the recommendations.

At Whittaker Road Animal Clinic, team members have taken the lead for much of the marketing of the practice's wellness care, according to practice manager Bentley. When clients call for appointments, receptionists tell them about the practice's wellness care packages. Receptionists also hand or mail interested pet owners a professionally designed brochure that explains the clinic's four different packages. All team members are encouraged to come up with clever, attention-getting wellness care wording for the marquee. And a receptionist compiled a wellness care document based on the practice's various packages, which can be e-mailed to clients.

3. Make a package deal

Speaking of packages, bundling services together at a discounted rate is a smart way to encourage clients to comply with wellness care. "With any package, you improve compliance, and that's huge," says Dr. Rothstein, who offers multiple packages—at a roughly 20 percent discount—at his six independent practices. "You're marketing it as one piece rather than breaking it down and having people pick out a few things they don't want."

If your practice offers these packages, take the lead to coming up with new ideas to market them. You'll help the clinic by helping to spread the word, says Dr. Karl Salszieder, JD, owner of Yelm Veterinary Hospital in Yelm, Wash. Here are some of the benefits of using these packages, according to Dr. Salszieder, who also owns Salszieder Consulting and Legal Services in Longview, Wash.: They make wellness care affordable for clients, allow practices to schedule wellness care during slower months and keep up a steady stream of income, and encourage clients to act on their pets' health problems earlier. Most importantly, such packages "bond clients to your practice and make them loyal," he says.

If your practice doesn't offer packages, consider presenting the idea at your next staff meeting. Be ready to discuss possible package offerings, prices, savings for clients, relevant statistics such as compliance, and the value to both patients and the practice.

To make wellness packages truly successful, you need both doctor and staff buy-in, says Dr. Rothstein. The team approach works. Receptionists should mention the plans to clients on the phone or at the front desk; technicians and assistants can provide more details; and professional-looking marketing materials that detail the services, prices, savings, and payment options should be available to clients in person, through the mail, and via e-mail.

4. Search out opportunities

In your practice, there are no doubt areas of wellness care that may have fallen under (or never been on) the radar. In Dr. Salszieder's opinion, many practices could improve their wellness care programs by (re)focusing on dentistry, ear care, skin issues, and obesity.

At Blue Sky Animal Clinic, a rededication to dentistry has resulted in big business: It accounts for 11 percent of the clinic's production, according to Dr. Romm—well above industry standards of 2.5 percent to 4 percent. How they'd do it? The staff worked with specialists to improve their skills. Technicians in particular received training in digital radiography and came back eager to put their new skills to work. In the past, full-mouth radiographs weren't always offered because no one wanted to do them, Dr. Romm says. But after the clinic adopted a digital system and the technicians learned more about them, the technicians suggested the approach be revised. Now, every dental patient is offered full-mouth radiographs.

The practice's team members have also focused on weight management. Dedicated exam room technicians work with clients to determine how many calories their pets need and what food fits the bill. They also compiled a list of healthy treats and a list of local places for pet owners to walk their dogs. Pets that pare down the pounds at scheduled weigh-ins are treated to a bag of lean treats.

Wellness care is important for every pet, whether young or senior, cat or dog. And it's also important for every team member, whether receptionist or technician, assistant or manager. So when a client asks you about parasite prevention for the umpteenth time or when you see a pet who only visits when sick, remember your focus on wellness. The health of pets—and the health of your practice—depend on it.

Erika Rasmusson Janes is a freelance writer and editor in New York City.

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