FIND A NEW VOICE
It's clear from this study that we need to increase our efforts to educate pet owners about the importance of veterinary care.
To do this, the profession must launch a multi-pronged approach.
First, we need something similar to dentists' twice-a-year teeth cleaning message or the USDA's "5 A Day" fruit and vegetable
campaign. Pet owners must be as convinced of the need for regular pet care as they are of the need for dental care and nutrition.
But we need to be convinced about what that care looks like—and we have to communicate it constantly.
At the practice level, here are some specific actions you can take to help pet owners better understand the importance of
veterinary care. As you can see, at the heart of each of these is communication.
Develop standards of care within your practice. Make sure everyone in your practice understands not only what your recommendations are but also why they're important. It
only confuses team members and clients if one doctor recommends annual visits and another says to come in twice a year. Decide
what your practice promotes as the best care and include this information in your staff training so everyone gets it.
Set up systems to communicate your standards to every client. Assign roles to individual staff members and use checklists, posters, and handouts to illustrate points. For example, your
annual exam discussion checklist might include 12 key points ranging from dental care to nutrition to flea and tick prevention.
Decide which topics the doctors will cover and which the technicians will address. Have each party check the item off the
list once it's been discussed. Also, make sure technicians have all the information they need to give good recommendations
and thoroughly answer questions. If these discussions take place near related learning aids, even better. For example, the
client will be impacted less strongly if she hears about dental disease in the reception area than in the exam room near your
dental models and posters. Of course, you'll want to schedule your appointments with enough time for these discussions to
take place. And don't forget that clients ask receptionists about medical matters as well, so make sure your front-desk team
is prepared to provide good answers—and know when to bring in a doctor or technician for a broader explanation.
Brush up on communication skills and educational materials. Not everyone is born with good communication skills, but everyone can learn them with a little effort. So provide training
for your team. And remember that people process information differently, so give clients materials in different formats: brochures,
your website, social media outlets, newsletters, and posters.
Send reminders. You probably use reminders, but consider expanding your system to include more messages. Don't just send vaccine reminders—include
annual exams in your messages. Send e-mails and text messages and make phone calls. Use language that conveys the benefits
and value of complying with the reminder. Send newsletters and health alerts to give clients important information—e-mail
is an especially effective and inexpensive way to do this. No e-mail list? Start one now. Every time a client comes in, have
your receptionist confirm his or her e-mail address along with other contact information.
Tell clients why wellness care is so important. This step is just as important as making the recommendation. Talk about the benefits of wellness care—prevention of future
problems, a longer life for the pet, a healthier pet now. And don't forget to discuss what you're doing while you're conducting
an examination. Many pet owners don't realize you're not just petting the patient. Communicate what you do. For example, say,
"I'm taking Fluffy's temperature now; it's normal," or "I'm looking at Fluffy's teeth—they have some plaque on them—let's
set up an appointment to clean them next week so her breath will smell good and an infection in her mouth won't lead to other