An ounce of prevention

An ounce of prevention

Can wellness really turn around the profession? Preventive health guidelines aim to spur client communication, boost practice visits
Oct 01, 2011

NATIONAL REPORT — New health guidelines from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) are calling for a fundamental shift in veterinary care delivery—from sick-animal care to wellness.

The concept has been around as long as veterinarians have been giving health advice, but embracing wellness as a cornerstone to a practice's veterinary care delivery is another proposition altogether.

The guidelines, developed in response to statistics indicating visits to veterinarians are declining while preventable diseases in pets are increasing, are designed to provide the foundation for the veterinary practice team to promote preventive veterinary medicine.

"Preventive medicine has been very much neglected in veterinary medicine for the last 30 to 40 years," says Henry K. Yoo, DVM, MSc, MBA, executive consultant of Infinity Medical Consulting & Co. based in Santa Monica, Calif. "Many veterinarians feel that preventive medicine is only (about administering) vaccines, de-worming and (performing) simple procedures. They believe they already are doing that."

Instead, Yoo believes the concept of preventive medicine should be expanded to an entirely new level. "Weight management, dentistry and diagnostics are a fundamental structure of medical practice," he says.

Yet few clients avail themselves of these preventive care tools. Therefore, consistent education is key. And it all starts with staff training. "Once they are empowered, and they see clients are really listening to them," Yoo says, "the staff gets really motivated."

"Idea setting creates enthusiasm with the staff," he adds. "They need enthusiasm. And they need the tools. Having the right tools builds confidence, and they need that too."

If a person only goes to see a physician once a year for a check-up, why would they take their pet more often? Veterinarians are reluctant to require, or even suggest basic wellness tests for that reason alone.

"In veterinary medicine, we don't do it because we're scared we are going to be rejected by clients," Yoo says. The benefits far outweigh those aversions.

If a practice decides to move forward with a wellness plan, it is investing in itself and its staff, he says. "This is good medicine," Yoo says. "It is good practice."

Dr. Beth Boynton, professor of wellness at Western University agrees.

It's all about realizing that special bond between human and animal and understanding that most clients want his or her pet to live forever.

"Dental care, weight management—there are a lot of things we can do for our pets for them to live a longer, healthier life," Boynton says.

At Western University, students are introduced to wellness in their first or second year as part of the clinical skills course through three animal wellness protocols.

Some students quickly adopt it. Others are more reluctant.

"As veterinarians, we like to solve problems and use all of our skills," Boynton says. "It's satisfying to perform a surgery that took an animal from the brink of death to a healthy life. With wellness care, the thought is that students should be able to pick up on the 'easy' things on their own.

"All schools are showing more of an emphasis on primary care," Boynton says. "The things they need to work on for a practice are good communication and standard surgery. The cost to clients for some of these preventable diseases going unchecked—emotionally, physically and financially—is very high. If we can work to intervene early, and have that collaboration early, clients are going to have healthier animals living longer lives."

"When academia begins to extol the benefits, the cache goes up a bit," Boynton says.

Reducing stressors associated with veterinary visits will also help.