A new program, The Opportunity, seeks to help veterinary practices increase the number of canine and feline visits for regular preventive care.
During a Jan. 15 press conference at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla., the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare announced that The Opportunity is under development. The basis of the program will be a survey tool for individual practices to obtain client and staff feedback about preventive care and reveal areas for action.
"Research that's been conducted with veterinary teams and pet owners reveals that there are opportunities to increase preventive care visits with enhancements to everyday practice," said Dr. Michael T. Cavanaugh, executive director of the American Animal Hospital Association.
A coalition of veterinary associations, including the AVMA and AAHA, and a number of animal health companies came together this past year to establish the partnership to promote preventive care in response to a decline in the frequency of pet veterinary visits that began before the economic downturn.
The partnership sponsored development of the new AAHA-AVMA Canine and Feline Preventive Healthcare Guidelines. During the NAVC, the partnership offered a session about using the guidelines as a foundation for communicating with pet owners about preventive care (see article, page 483).
In September 2011, the partnership conducted a benchmarking survey that found that 79 percent of veterinary professionals agree there has been an industry-wide decline in pet veterinary visits. Nevertheless, 77 percent believe they can have a positive impact on pet owners' perceptions of preventive care for pets.
Jeremy Kees, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at Villanova School of Business, Villanova, Pa., participated in the partnership's benchmarking survey and discussed the results during the press conference.
The survey yielded responses from 708 veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and practice or office managers. Although most respondents perceived a decline in pet veterinary visits, 41 percent believe that the causes are beyond their control and are not sure they can do much to reduce the trend.
Respondents cited causes such as the economic downturn, changes in the competitive landscape, and price increases by veterinarians. Eighty-eight percent also cited ineffective communication about the value of preventive care for pets, with 72 percent of respondents agreeing they should spend more time talking to pet owners about preventive care.
The recent Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study found that more than half of dog and cat owners would take their pet to the veterinarian more often if they knew they could prevent problems and expensive treatment later or if they were convinced doing so would help their pet live longer.
The partnership also arranged for a psychologist to conduct in-depth interviews with 10 veterinarians and 15 pet owners. Dr. Kees said the interviews revealed that many veterinarians and pet owners interact more on the basis of transactions than on the basis of a long-term relationship or a lifetime plan for each pet.
Data from phase one of The Opportunity revealed that
most pet owners were very satisfied with the overall
service they received but were not aware of many of
the specific services that practices performed, ranging
from dietary recommendations to discussion of the
"If the clients don't recognize that these specific services are being performed during their preventive care visit, then it's very difficult for them to understand the value associated with preventive pet health care, routine visits."
"We also found, through these in-depth interviews, that veterinarians have trouble conveying the 'ask,'" Dr. Kees said.
"They're not sure that they're clearly explaining what complete preventive care means and, more importantly, communicating the value of what preventive pet health care means—and convincing pet owners that they should be bringing their pets in for routine check-ups, for regular visits. And, also, a difficult economy just makes this even more challenging for the profession."
The partnership is developing The Opportunity as a program to help veterinarians and pet owners work together to enhance preventive care, Dr. Kees said. The program is a research tool for individual practices to assess perspectives on preventive care, with a survey for pet owners and a survey for the veterinary team.
"There's an emphasis on keeping The Opportunity easy—easy to administer, easy to use for the practitioner," Dr. Kees noted.
The questions in both surveys cover the practice's staff, practice's services, value of services, importance of preventive care, meaning of preventive care, and communication between veterinary professionals and pet owners. Responses reveal areas of opportunity for practice enhancement.
In November and December 2011, 23 practices participated in phase one real-world testing of the Opportunity program, Dr. Kees said. At the AAHA annual meeting in mid-March, the partnership plans to introduce a larger pilot program with about 100 additional practices. The partnership plans to roll out The Opportunity to the entire profession later this year.
Data from phase one of The Opportunity revealed that most pet owners were very satisfied with the overall service they received but were not aware of many of the specific services that practices performed, ranging from dietary recommendations to discussion of the follow-up plan.
"If the clients don't recognize that these specific services are being performed during their preventive care visit, then it's very difficult for them to understand the value associated with preventive pet health care, routine visits," Dr. Kees said.
Phase one also found that pet owners and veterinary professionals view the importance of various services differently.
Dr. Cavanaugh said The Opportunity is one of many initiatives that the partnership has been planning to achieve a mission "to ensure that pets receive the preventive health care they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian" and to achieve a vision to improve pets' overall health.
"Veterinary professionals recognize there's an issue at hand and there is an opportunity for improvement, and pet owners are ready to embrace preventive health care if they know it will make a difference," Dr. Cavanaugh said. "So I know we can bridge that gap."
Among other initiatives, the partnership previously announced plans to launch an outreach campaign later this year or early next year to educate pet owners about the value of preventive care for pets.
Additional information about the partnership is available at www.pethealthpartnership.org.