AAHA conference spans spectrum from Puppy Bowl to 9/11

Meeting features AAHA advertising campaign, speaker who survived terrorist attacks
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Millions of TV viewers who watched Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl this year learned an acronym already familiar to veterinarians: AAHA.

Serving as a sponsor and advertiser for Puppy Bowl VI, the American Animal Hospital Association kicked off the public phase of a campaign promoting the AAHA accreditation program for veterinary practices.

Illustration: DogIllustration: Cat


The AAHA commercials on Animal Planet feature these dog and cat characters as well as Dr. Elisa M. Mazzaferro, director of emergency services at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colo. (Courtesy of Animal Planet)

Leaders of AAHA touted the campaign during the association's 77th annual meeting, March 18-21 in Long Beach, Calif. The conference also highlighted other AAHA initiatives, such as the release of standardized diagnostic terms and development of new guidelines on subjects ranging from diabetes to nutritional assessment.

During the meeting, Dr. Gregg K. Takashima assumed the office of president (see profile). The association honored three individuals with awards, designated the first AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year, and recognized the first three practices to achieve 75 years of accreditation (see story).

The general session featured a riveting account by a blind man whose guide dog helped lead him out of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Educational programming covered not only technical topics but also managerial matters, including a number of sessions that delved into the economic state of small animal practice (see story).  

AAHA initiatives

Dr. John D. Tait, outgoing president, began the "AAHA Takes Action" session by describing progress on the AAHA Accreditation Awareness Campaign. The association unveiled the $1 million campaign last year. Most of the funds came from the sale of the AAHA MarketLink supply outlet to MWI Veterinary Supply.

The association's advertisements on Animal Planet—addressing pain management, parasite control, wellness, and nutrition—will run more than 3,000 times and make more than 130 million impressions.

"Part of our goal in getting this awareness out to clients and potential clients is to drive them to our Web site," Dr. Tait said.

The site, which AAHA redesigned in January, offers information for pet owners on subjects such as animal care and AAHA-accredited hospitals.

Dr. Michael R. Moyer, AAHA president-elect, said the association has committed to spend any increase in revenues from the AAHA Preferred Business Provider Program on campaign funding.

Dr. Takashima, the new AAHA president, announced the availability of standardized diagnostic codes for electronic health records in small animal practices. Volunteers spent years developing the diagnostic codes and mapping them to the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine.

"[SNOMED] is arguably the most comprehensive clinical vocabulary in the world, in any language," he said. "We wanted to create the most robust standard terms."

The AAHA board voted to release the standardized diagnostic codes for free to vendors that supply software for small animal practices.

Dr. Takashima also highlighted the new AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool. The tool helps match a pet's microchip number with the registry containing the owner's information.

Dr. G. Timothy Lee, AAHA secretary-treasurer, spoke about several new guidelines for veterinary care that are now available or under development.

Earlier this year, the American Association of Feline Practitioners and AAHA published the AAFP-AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines in their journals. Also this year, AAHA is releasing the AAHA Diabetes Mellitus Guidelines for Dogs and Cats and the AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.

In addition, AAHA is updating its guidelines on canine vaccines.  

9/11 with a guide dog

Hingson and Roselle
Michael Hingson, keynote speaker at the AAHA meeting, describes how guide dog Roselle, now retired, helped lead him out of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Michael Hingson, keynote speaker for the AAHA meeting, held up his relationship with guide dogs and his experience surviving 9/11 as lessons in teamwork.

Blind since birth, Hingson has had seven guide dogs. On Sept. 11, 2001, accompanied by his guide dog Roselle, he was working on the 78th floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center as a sales manager for a company that made data backup systems for disaster recovery.

Hingson and a colleague were preparing for a presentation when they heard a distant explosion and felt the building shudder. The building tipped about 20 feet in one direction, before coming back upright, but then dropped about 6 feet.

Hingson's colleague, looking outside, saw fire and smoke. Hingson could hear pieces of paper falling past the windows. Roselle, who had come out of Hingson's office, remained calm, so Hingson believed they could evacuate safely. His colleague escorted guests to the stairway, and Hingson called his wife to tell her what little he knew.

Hingson, his colleague, and Roselle headed down the stairs with another group of people. They moved aside for other people helping burn victims to evacuate.

"Soon after the second person passed us, we realized how bad it had to truly be above us. A woman near us on the stairs stopped, and she said, 'I can't go on. I can't breathe. We're not going to make it,'" Hingson said. "We all stopped—there were about seven of us—and we just all turned and faced her and had a group hug. We just touched her, surrounded her, and said, 'Look, we're in this together. Come on, you can do it.' She was able to continue down the stairs."

Then Hingson's colleague despaired. Hingson snapped that if he and Roselle could go down the stairs, so could the colleague. The colleague rallied, and he went ahead to call out that the way remained clear. Hingson focused on reassuring Roselle so she wouldn't respond to the fear around her.

The group eventually escaped from the building. Only after both towers collapsed did Hingson manage to reach his wife again by phone, and she explained that terrorists had crashed planes into the towers.

Educational programming

Conference attendees
Attendees at the recent conference of the American Animal Hospital Association, March 18-21 in Long Beach, Calif., enjoy a break between sessions outside in the sunshine.

After the general session, the AAHA conference offered several days of educational programming on multiple tracks.

Electronic health records were the focus of one of the management tracks. Dr. Tina S. Neel, chief of staff at Neel Veterinary Hospital in Oklahoma City, and Scott Buchanan, her son and practice coordinator, delivered three presentations regarding electronic records and electronic communications.

In a session on Web sites, Dr. Neel emphasized the importance of practices developing a user-friendly Web site for new and existing clients.

"In veterinary practices across the country, I've seen a couple of really good Web sites," Buchanan said. "But by and large, there's a lot that either don't exist or they're impossible to find or they don't provide a lot of good information for the customer."

Dr. Neel said her hospital's Web site offers information about services and procedures. Buchanan added that the site includes options to contact the hospital and make payments.

Nutrition and dentistry were among the topics of the numerous tracks for veterinary technicians during the AAHA meeting.

Dr. Joseph W. Bartges, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, gave several presentations for the veterinary technicians' nutrition track. He concluded by discussing obesity management for dogs and cats.

"It is and should be a team effort," Dr. Bartges said. "It involves getting the owners convinced and convincing yourself to treat this as a disease."

Veterinary technicians can help explain the benefits of weight reduction to clients, he said.

Dr. Bartges recommended that obesity management for dogs and cats include conducting regular weigh-ins, feeding special diets rather than simply less food, feeding meals instead of allowing free access to food, minimizing but not eliminating treats, and increasing exercise.

Vickie Byard, president of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians, gave presentations on various aspects of dentistry and concluded with a talk about how to develop a thriving dental program.

Byard said cost is not the primary reason that clients don't schedule dental appointments for their pets. Often, no one makes the recommendation for a dental appointment, the client doesn't see the importance of dental care, the practice doesn't send a reminder, or the client fears the effects of anesthesia on the pet.

To educate clients about dental care as well as anesthesia, Byard now offers seminars at her practice.

"We have a wonderful time. It's an hour and a half with my clients—guess what?, now they know me," Byard said. "And it bonds them to the practice."

Recordings of many of the sessions from the AAHA conference, including Byard's presentations and the "AAHA Takes Action" session, are available for purchase.

by the numbers


Conference: 3,340 attendees—including 1,058 veterinarians, 170 veterinary technicians, and 131 veterinary students and veterinary technician students

Membership: about 3,200 AAHA-accredited hospitals and almost 2,400 nonaccredited hospitals comprising more than 45,000 individual AAHA members