September 15, 2014


 Is the message getting through?

​Partners for Healthy Pets shares successes, challenges in preventive care

Posted Sept. 3, 2014

Dr. Diane Eigner first got the courage to survey her clients with a free survey tool focusing on preventive care from Partners for Healthy Pets. George Bailey, a practice manager, uses PHP training videos on communicating the value of preventive care. Practice manager Bobbie Cotton used PHP resources to implement guidelines for preventive care from the AVMA and American Animal Hospital Association. 

The veterinary community overall is placing more of an emphasis on preventive care for pets, according to a new white paper from Partners for Healthy Pets, but the frequency of pets’ veterinary visits does not appear to have increased—at least not yet.

​Bobbie Cotton (center), manager of Animal Family Veterinary Care Center in Davenport, Iowa, used resources from Partners for Healthy Pets to implement guidelines for preventive care from the AVMA and American Animal Hospital Association. (Courtesy of Partners for Healthy Pets)

Partners for Healthy Pets released the findings July 26 during the AVMA Annual Convention. On July 27, the consortium presented educational programming focusing on its consumer campaign and its toolbox full of free resources to help practices promote preventive care. The sessions featured the success stories of Dr. Eigner and practice managers Bailey and Cotton.

The AVMA and AAHA lead Partners for Healthy Pets, which operates as a committee of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. The consortium comprises more than 115 veterinary associations, veterinary colleges, and animal health companies committed to a vision of improved pet health. 

The alliance formed in 2011, introduced the resources toolbox in 2012, and started the consumer campaign in 2013. Earlier this year, the consortium commissioned new surveys of the veterinary community and pet owners to assess progress in providing preventive care to pets. 

The survey results appear in the white paper “Reversing the decline in veterinary care utilization: progress made, challenges remain.” Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA chief executive officer, characterized the results as good, bad, and ugly. 

Among the good news is that more than 60 percent of practice team members said their practices have increased efforts to communicate the value and benefit of preventive care to pet owners. The bad news is that pet owners did not report an increase in frequency of veterinary visits. The ugly is that, compared with a few years ago, higher percentages of pet owners now cite the following reasons not to use professional veterinary care: cost, stress of veterinary visits, and reliance on the Internet for information about pet health. 

“Fundamentally, it’s a lack of understanding of the value and importance of preventive care, but the fact that practices are focusing more on it would suggest that we’ve got an ongoing opportunity to help turn that around,” Dr. DeHaven said.

On pet owners not visiting veterinarians:
"Fundamentally, it’s a lack of understanding of the value and importance of preventive care, but the fact that practices are focusing more on it would suggest that we’ve got an ongoing opportunity to help turn that around."
Dr. Ron DeHaven,
AVMA chief executive officer
Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, AAHA executive director, said the consortium has made headway within the profession. Among survey respondents, 74 percent of veterinarians and 87 percent of office managers said they were aware of the Partners for Healthy Pets and its mission.
Dr. Cavanaugh said the results of the survey of pet owners are a call to action. He said, “Any change requires action, and I think we still have a group of colleagues who might be thinking about preventive care, but they haven’t done anything different yet.”
The Partners for Healthy Pets consumer campaign has garnered a lot of exposure, Dr. DeHaven said. The message of the multimedia campaign is that annual veterinary visits are as essential to pets as food and love. The public service announcement alone had more than 1,700 television placements as of midsummer. Print advertisements will continue through the end of the year.

Dr. DeHaven said the consortium plans to focus next on helping veterinarians implement the model used in human dentistry of scheduling the next appointment before the client leaves the clinic. While the multimillion-dollar campaign can’t continue forever, the alliance will continue using social media and helping practices use social media to spread the campaign message. 

The white paper concludes: “When veterinarians focus on keeping pets healthy as their first objective, providing high quality acute care when needed, and communicating those service goals to their clients, experience has shown that all parties will benefit.”  
These advertisements from Partners for Healthy Pets are running in a variety of publications. The message is that annual veterinary visits are as essential to pets as food and love.

Dr. Eigner, who owns The Cat Doctor in Philadelphia, believes in working smarter, not harder. The Opportunity survey tool from Partners for Healthy Pets allowed her to quickly customize a survey for her clients. She found that almost all were satisfied with their most recent visit. She also found that while members of her team believed they were talking with clients about specific subjects, such as behavior, many clients did not remember those conversations. Dr. Eigner has gone on to perform other surveys to collect additional client feedback.

Bailey, manager of Stratham-Newfields Veterinary Hospital in Newfields, New Hampshire, has found a valuable resource in the PHP training videos about communicating the value of preventive care. The “Words That Work” videos cover the topics of taking a history and building a relationship, the physical examination, nutrition, dental care, and heartworm prevention. Bailey said the series has created a conversation among team members about their approach to the topics and has re-energized the practice’s focus on preventive care.  

Cotton, manager of Animal Family Veterinary Care Center in Davenport, Iowa, said customizing and implementing the AVMA-AAHA guidelines for preventive care took a substantial time investment. She said the implementation tools are easy to use, however. Cotton said the key is for the practice team to share the same message about various aspects of preventive care. 

The practice also has started scheduling the next annual checkup for each pet before the owner leaves the clinic, Cotton said. Each veterinarian recommends the checkup before leaving the examination room, and the assistant schedules the appointment right there in the room.

The Partners for Healthy Pets website offers the resources toolbox for practices and practices’ success stories as well as ready-to-use materials from the consumer campaign.   

Speaking up for prevention

Posted Sept. 3, 2014

The Partners for Healthy Pets’ consumer campaign features not only advertisements but also five veterinarian spokeswomen spreading the message of preventive care.

Among the spokeswomen is Dr. Apryl Steele, owner of Tender Touch Animal Hospital in Denver. She is thrilled to take on the role.

Dr. Apryl Steele (Photo by Monico Candelaria)

“I feel like what Partners for Healthy Pets is doing is really advocating for the individual private practice veterinarian and for the animals,” Dr. Steele said. “As a practitioner, I was seeing more and more animals come in to me, especially as the economy was getting a little bit more difficult for people, and these were animals that were having conditions that, if I had seen them six months or eight months earlier, I could have been really, really impactful in the outcome of those conditions.”

Dr. Steele has promoted preventive care in interviews on local television news and in podcasts on blogs. Her podcasts on Mary Haight’s Dancing Dog Blog have delved into subjects such as heartworm prevention, vaccination, obesity, and dental care.

At her own hospital, Dr. Steele is seeing an increase in preventive care. One factor in the increase is that the hospital has spent a lot of time implementing monthly payment plans for packages of preventive care, and clients love the plans. 

The other spokeswomen for Partners for Healthy Pets are Drs. Karen Fling in Dallas, Tracey Hlede in Chicago, Ruth MacPete in San Diego, and Katy Nelson in Alexandria, Virginia.

Related JAVMA content:

Opportunity (March 1, 2012)
Toolbox for Healthy Pets (Sept. 15, 2012)
Herding Cat Owners (Sept. 1, 2013)
Banking on wellness (May 1, 2014)