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When the client says, 'No'


Here are five commonly recommended services along with educational strategies for getting pet owners to "yes."

Nope, no thanks, not a chance. The exact responses might vary, but when clients don't comply, the result is the same: Pets don't get the care they need. To improve your practice's client compliance rates and your patients' health, education is key. When clients understand the reasoning behind these five recommendations, they'll have nothing to say but "Yep, of course, Roger that."

1 Parasite control

Some pet owners, especially those with indoor cats, just don't believe their pets need parasite control, says Nancy Potter, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan. "Sometimes they'll say, 'My dog only goes outside to go potty,' or 'My dog is paper-trained and doesn't go outside,'" Potter says. You can't really blame them. After all, they're not veterinary professionals like you. So share your knowledge with clients. "We tell them that it only takes one mosquito bite to get heartworm disease," Potter says. "Then we explain the cost of treating heartworms and that the injections are painful, as well as the fact that the pet must be confined while we wait for the heartworms to die."

Another obstacle: Clients may have heard their pets only need parasite control for half the year, says Caitlin Rivers, a veterinary assistant and the inventory and special projects coordinator at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. Some practices don't suggest yearlong prevention, but if yours does, explain why. Here's what Rivers, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member, tells her clients: "A lot of places only offer heartworm treatment in the summer, but we recommend treatment year-round. How about you, have you been doing it every six months?"

Which clients receive reminders at your practice?

If the clients worry that they'll forget to give the medication every month, offer reminders. For example, your practice could send a monthly e-mail that nudges clients to administer the preventive.

If clients still say no, explain that it's cheaper to buy the product 12 months at a time rather than monthly. And if that fails, follow up later with a letter or phone call to answer any questions and repeat the recommendation.

2 Pain medication

This is the recommendation pet owners are most likely to follow, Potter says. "People want to give their pet relief," she says. "If the animal is uncomfortable, they want to make it feel better. For surgeries, we include pain medication in treatment plans and estimates."

Many practices include pain medication in their surgical treatment plans and estimates. In fact, it's more common for practices to build in pain medication for certain procedures rather than offering it as an option.

If your practice provides the choice and people decline pain medication, it's because they're afraid of the side effects or cost, Rivers says. And this provides another opportunity for client education. Quell anxious clients' nerves by explaining just how safe today's medications are as well as the precautions your team will use. "If it's a cost issue, there are a lot of options," Rivers says. "Help them understand it's not an all or nothing situation." For ways to help clients manage costs, read "When Money Is the Issue".

How would you rate clients' compliance with your practice's recommendations?*

3 Weight control and exercise

This is one of the most commonly offered—and disregarded—recommendations. Addressing weight issues requires gentle communication and education, says Karen Sabatini, a Firstline Editorial Advisory board member and receptionist with Ardmore Animal Hospital in Ardmore, Pa. "Clients seem to associate food with love, just like many parents," she says. "They don't understand that an animal doesn't rationalize hunger the same way a person does. The clients don't realize that begging for food is a behavior, rather than an indication that the pet is hungry."

Since many clients may be overfeeding out of love, draw on the bonds they share with their pet to help them understand the importance of weight loss. Explain to clients that you want their pet to live a long and healthy life and that obesity can lead to serious diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Some clients might be reluctant to confess that their pets are eating too much, and Rivers says many may not even realize it. "Try to make them feel comfortable so they'll open up and tell you how much the pet's really eating," she says. "And don't just ask about the food but also the snacks and treats."

It's tough for clients to grasp the amount of food their pets actually need, so it helps to offer specific serving information. Consider distributing calorie charts for various foods and treats (visit dvm360.com for examples).

Images often bring home the message more than numbers, so show clients a picture of what pets at ideal weights look like. Let clients know that you and your practice will play a supporting role by offering to let clients drop in every month without an appointment to have their pet weighed.

4 Blood work

If you were going to have surgery, the hospital wouldn't ask whether you wanted blood work done, the nurses would just do it. Some veterinary practices take the same approach. For instance, Potter's clinic requires preanesthetic blood work as part of a patient's treatment plan. And clients don't mind. In fact, only about one client every year balks at the requirement, Potter says. If preanesthetic blood work is optional at your practice, let clients know that you strongly encourage it because it increases the chance their pets will sail through surgery.

Recommending routine blood work also provides an opportunity to talk to clients about preventive care. "We try to make the client understand that many times blood work will reveal a problem years before the pet starts showing symptoms," Sabatini says. "Once they understand that it can save money and improve their pet's health in the long run, they usually agree to it."

If they decline for economic reasons, ask if they'd like a reminder later, Rivers says. "We send a card that explains when blood work is needed," she says. "Prescription labels also show when blood work is required, and our receptionist repeats the instructions on the package out loud to clients." Potter and her team members distribute handouts about the importance of blood work, and they follow up later by phone or e-mail.

5 Dental work

Your clients know that dental hygiene is important for people, but they may not realize it's important for pets, too. Rivers and her team members tell every owner that his or her pet needs dental care throughout its life. "And we explain that if we clean the teeth before they get bad, the pet won't be under anesthesia for long and the procedure will be cheaper," she says.

Still, Potter says it's easy for clients to neglect pets' dental care. "Most people don't look at their dog's teeth," Potter says. So team members show them. "We have handouts with pictures of teeth in grades one, two, three, and four disease. We take photos of their own dog's teeth before and after cleaning so they can compare." Team members also use pictures to encourage clients who are wavering about dental care. "It gives them a little more incentive when they can actually see how their pet's teeth look," Potter says.

Reminders and follow-ups are key to encouraging the dental care pets need. It's also a good idea to teach clients to maintain their pets' teeth between veterinary visits.

Client education, in fact, is the key to compliance in general. "Take the time to tell pet owners why you want to do something," Potter says. "Time after time, people say to me, 'No one ever explained that to me before.'"

Remember, clients can feel overwhelmed with information, so break these conversations into manageable chunks, Rivers says. "Schedule two or three appointments instead of approaching them with a huge checklist," she says. "Tell them, 'Next time we'll talk about these topics,' so they know there's more coming." Rivers even gives clients a handout about upcoming topics so they have time to think things over.

And be sure to keep it a two-way conversation so clients don't feel talked down to or pressured. "Learn to listen to them, too," Rivers says. "Clients know their animals better than we do. On the other hand, we have information the clients don't have." If you work with the client as a team, you set the stage for more compliant clients and healthier pets.

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