Keys to increasing dental compliance

Combat low dental care compliance rates with these five easy-to-implement strategies.
Jan 01, 2005


Dr. Mary Ann Vande Linde
Every day, pet owners across the country take their pets to local animal clinics, where veterinarians examine them carefully for signs of disease. One of the most common of those diseases is periodontal disease—a fact that has made oral healthcare an integral part of every pet's lifelong wellness plan. Yet according to AAHA's 2003 study, "The Path to High-Quality Care," 15.5 million dogs and cats with stage 2, 3, or 4 periodontal disease had not received dental prophylactic treatment. The study also found that, in the area of dental prophylaxis, the national noncompliance rate is an alarming 65%.

What's behind these low treatment and compliance numbers? Not clients' unwillingness to pay. In fact, the AAHA study found that cost was not a significant factor in a client's decision to comply with a doctor's recommendation. As it turns out, clients aren't declining recommendations—they're often not receiving them. For example, "The Path to High-Quality Care" reported that 19% of the hospitals studied did not record dental stages in the medical records of pets that were given dental examinations. It also reported that 66% of the patients had stage 1 periodontal disease, but veterinarians and technicians had not recommended dental prophylaxes. In short, dental care noncompliance stems largely from the lack of clear, consistent recommendations by healthcare teams.

Fortunately, reversing low compliance rates for dental care is possible through a concerted effort by team members. Clients become, as I like to say, "adherent" to recommendations when they understand their importance and hear them regularly.

Steps to success Are clients ready for dental recommendations for their pets? You bet! Just look at all the dental products for pets at your local grocery or pet store. Even Consumer Reports mentioned dental care in its list of "Top 20" things to do to keep your pet healthy and save on veterinary bills.

Now all you need is a plan to deliver clear and consistent recommendations, which will keep dental disease prevention and treatment a growing and successful part of your practice. The plan doesn't have to be complicated, as you'll see in the following steps. It's more about planting the seeds for success—and watching them grow.

1. Prepare your team. Some clients need to hear a message six to eight times before they respond or recognize its importance. To accomplish this, you'll need the help of your entire staff. Start by holding a staff meeting to explain the practice's dental program and stress its importance. Then create enthusiasm by acknowledging each person's role in improving pet health and client awareness. You'll also want to provide every team member with a uniform script that helps them stress the value of dental care to clients consistently.

Ask pet health industry representatives to help educate and motivate your team members. Often trained by experts, these representatives can conduct training seminars that are geared toward the support staff.

Finally, measure your team's success by tracking the number of exams that record dental disease stages and the number of dental prophylaxes (for stages 1 through 4) completed per month. Set future meeting dates so the team can modify or fine-tune the plan and, most important, celebrate your achievements.

2. Spread the news. Don't wait until clients are in the exam room to begin educating them about the importance of oral healthcare and the services you offer; not when you have a hospital reception area that's just waiting for you to:

  • Place instructive pamphlets on tables and at the front desk.
  • Play an educational video or DVD.
  • Create a bulletin board that displays before-and-after pictures of a team member's pet that benefited from dental prophylaxis. Include the pet's response to the procedure and a list of your services.