$1 million campaign to raise awareness of AAHA hospitals

Association continues initiatives to improve client compliance, electronic records
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The American Animal Hospital Association has launched a $1 million campaign featuring television commercials on Animal Planet to raise awareness among pet owners of the AAHA accreditation program for veterinary practices.

Leaders of AAHA announced the campaign to members during the association's 76th annual meeting, March 26-29 in Phoenix. Members also learned about the status of other AAHA initiatives, including programs to improve client compliance with veterinarians' recommendations and to develop standard terminology for electronic health records.

During the AAHA meeting, Dr. John D. Tait assumed the office of president for the coming year (see profile, ). The association also honored three veterinarians with awards (see story).

Conference sessions included a wide variety of educational programming. It was standing room only at the "AAHA Takes Action" session about association initiatives. The opening session also drew a multitude of members to learn about the accreditation awareness campaign.

Accreditation awareness

Dr. Anna E. Worth, outgoing AAHA president, spoke during the opening session about the association's plans to build a national brand. She said the $1 million campaign will raise public awareness of pets' medical needs, with the message being that pets require veterinary care, and will increase familiarity with AAHA-accredited practices.

Along with commercials on Animal Planet, Dr. Worth said, AAHA will be one of the station's sponsors for either the Puppy Bowl or the broadcast of the American Kennel Club national championship. The association also is updating its image for the accreditation awareness campaign with a new AAHA logo and a new logo for AAHA-accredited practices.

Dr. Worth added that AAHA accreditation is important to 80 percent of pet owners who become familiar with the program, according to the association's research.

"It is the edge you need in these challenging economic times," Dr. Worth said.

The keynote lecture was by Daniel T. Drubin, DC, a chiropractor turned author and motivational speaker. Dr. Drubin said organizations and individuals should embrace change if they want to stand out from the crowd and avoid becoming obsolete.

Dr. Gregg K. Takashima, 2009-2010 AAHA president-elect, provided more details about the association's rebranding and accreditation awareness campaign during the "AAHA Takes Action" session.

AAHA The Standard of Veterinary ExcellenceThe bulk of the $1 million in campaign funding will go toward the AAHA presence on Animal Planet, Dr. Takashima said, though the campaign includes other components. Most of the money comes from last year's sale of the AAHA MarketLink supply outlet to MWI Veterinary Supply.

Dr. Takashima said the first phase of the accreditation awareness campaign is the introduction to AAHA members. Next year, the association will engage the pet-owning public with commercials and sponsorships on Animal Planet. As part of the campaign, AAHA also hopes to partner with animal shelters—the idea being that people who adopt an animal will be looking for a veterinarian.

Additional details about the campaign are on the Web at www.aahanet.org.

Client compliance

In another initiative, AAHA recently completed follow-up research to a 2002 study of clients' compliance with veterinarians' recommendations for treatments, screenings, and procedures.

Dr. John W. Albers, AAHA executive director, said the 2002 study found client compliance to be generally poor even though practices believed compliance to be good. The 2008 study found that compliance does increase for practices that make an effort. The biggest increases in compliance were for pre-anesthetic and senior pet screenings.

"Improving compliance is really about improving patient care," Dr. Albers said.

The recent research found that more practices now believe client compliance to be their responsibility, Dr. Albers said. Approaches to improving client compliance include creating pre-arrival checklists to guide recommendations, printing the recommendations on the bottom of invoices, and sending reminders.

The 2008 study also examined client adherence to pets' medication regimens. According to the executive summary, interventions to improve medication adherence in human medicine are applicable to veterinary medicine. Such interventions range from simplifying the regimen to providing education about the medication.

Interviews and a survey of pet owners found that some clients believe veterinary practices are not delivering the kind of communication that would improve adherence to medication regimens—such as demonstrations and follow-up calls. The research also found that pet owners are willing to pay more for medication that is easier to administer.

AAHA presidents
Dr. John D. Tait, incoming AAHA president, accepts the gavel from Dr. Anna E. Worth, outgoing president.

The summary of the study is available on the AAHA Web site. The full report and a companion publication, "Six Steps to Higher Quality Patient Care," will be available this summer.

Electronic records

Implementation of electronic health records at veterinary practices is the focus of another AAHA initiative. Dr. Heidi A. Burnett, chair of the AAHA Electronic Health Records Task Force, said implementation takes time and money but is worth the cost because of the potential benefits to patients and the profession.

To realize all the benefits, though, electronic health records need to incorporate standard diagnostic codes. Dr. Burnett said AAHA is working with 45 practices to beta test the diagnostic codes that the association has been developing. The association is meeting with software vendors about incorporating the codes.

Dr. Burnett added that a slow economy might be a good time for some practices to explore computerizing their records.

"At your hospital, maybe you should consider removing mountains of paperwork," she said.

Kimberly Smith-Akin, a doctoral candidate in health informatics at the University of Texas, spoke later in the AAHA meeting about "Pulpless Fiction: Myths and Truths on Going Paperless."

Computers can do things that paper can't, Smith-Akin noted. Software can issue alerts about allergies or drug interactions, chart laboratory data to reveal trends, and even provide aggregate data to improve medical treatment.

Smith-Akin said the people and processes at a practice will affect any transition to electronic health records. A practice might need to make its processes more efficient before going paperless. People dislike change, Smith-Akin said, but one way to overcome resistance is to have a champion who explains the benefits.

Smith-Akin's presentation focused largely on how to choose a software system. The presentation and accompanying materials are on the Web at kimberlysmith-akin.com/presentations.

by the numbers

American Animal Hospital Association

Conference: 3,583 attendees—including 1,362 veterinarians, 332 veterinary technicians, and 114 veterinary and veterinary technician students

Membership: about 3,000 AAHA-accredited hospitals and about 3,000 nonaccredited hospitals, comprising close to 40,000 individual members