Dr. Diane R. Eigner, director of The Cat Doctor in Philadelphia, said that staff members at her practice go out of their way to educate clients about topics in feline health such as enrichment and nutrition. So she was surprised by survey results revealing how little their clients remember about those discussions.
Dr. Eigner's practice was among 23 that participated in preliminary testing of The Opportunity, a program under development by the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare. The program's core component is a survey tool to allow practices to uncover gaps between what they communicate about preventive care and what clients understand.
The AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, other veterinary associations, and animal health companies recently formed the partnership to promote preventive care in response to a decline over many years in the frequency of feline and canine veterinary visits.
At AAHA's annual conference in March, the partnership held a breakfast to invite practices to participate in a larger pilot version of The Opportunity. Also at the conference, the partnership offered sessions about how practices can implement the new AAHA-AVMA guidelines on preventive care for dogs and cats.
At the breakfast, Eric Schreiber of Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Innovations, the communications agency for the partnership, spoke about development of The Opportunity.
Dr. Diane R. Eigner, director of The Cat Doctor in Philadelphia, speaks about participating in preliminary testing of The Opportunity, a program to assess the perspectives of clients and the practice team on preventive care. (Courtesy of Joel Silverman/AAHA)
As part of its initial research, the partnership arranged interviews with veterinarians and pet owners, during which they asked interviewees to draw circles representing the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Veterinarians and pet owners alike drew circles showing themselves overlapping with the pets, but not with each other.
The Opportunity is an attempt to help close the gaps, Schreiber said. The program provides practices with a survey to give to the practice team and a similar survey to give to clients to assess perspectives on preventive care.
The preliminary proof-of-concept testing found that pet owners reported overall satisfaction with veterinary services, but the results also revealed a key disconnect.
"Perhaps the most compelling information that has come from this proof of concept is the gaps that were seen regarding a disconnect between services performed in hospitals and what is remembered by the pet owner and what is understood," Schreiber said. "Is there a major problem here in terms of perceived value?"
Dr. Eigner spoke at the breakfast about her practice's participation in preliminary testing of The Opportunity.
"We were a little bit afraid to see how people rated us, and it was actually very pleasantly surprising to find that the majority of our clients are quite satisfied with our services," Dr. Eigner said.
She said the surveys also revealed that clients did not recognize all the services that are part of a routine veterinary visit.
"Clearly, the messaging we're giving is just not getting delivered and received the way we want it to be, even though we also send home written summaries of every visit with every single client, where we're reinforcing what we communicated," Dr. Eigner said.
George Bailey, hospital manager at Stratham-Newfields Veterinary Hospital in Newfields, N.H., also spoke about participating in preliminary testing of the program. Bailey said, "We saw a fairly close correlation between what the staff said and what the clients said."
The larger pilot version of The Opportunity, with 100 practices, was under way at press time in April. The partnership plans to roll out the full program to the entire profession later this year.
Also speaking at the AAHA conference were members of the task force that developed the new guidelines for preventive care.
"Our Nation's Pets Are at Risk" was the title of a talk by Dr. Michael R. Moyer, a member of the task force and outgoing AAHA president. He started by discussing the decline in the frequency of veterinary visits that began before the economic downturn.
Dr. Moyer spoke about the movement in veterinary colleges to teach students more about primary care. He went on to describe the new guidelines as a tool to improve delivery of primary care.
"The Special Problem of Cats" was the title of a talk by Dr. Ilona Rodan, a member of the guidelines task force and a consultant on cat-friendly practice. Dr. Rodan spoke about implementing the feline guidelines and reducing the stress of veterinary visits for cats and cat owners.
Dr. Karen E. Felsted of Felsted Veterinary Consultants spoke about implementing the guidelines and communicating the value of preventive care. Dr. Felsted emphasized the idea that the veterinary profession needs a mantra to advocate routine visits, similar to the dental profession's mantra advocating twice-a-year visits.
"It's important to start to brand the guidelines, if you will," Dr. Felsted continued. "It's important that when we talk to pet owners in our practices, we start talking about the AAHA-AVMA guidelines, so that pet owners recognize that there is a standard out there for the minimum amount of care that every pet needs every single year."
Dr. Felsted suggested that practices should arrange structured training for teams to implement the guidelines. To communicate the value of preventive care to clients, she recommended providing information in as many ways as possible.
Members of the AVMA and AAHA can access resources on guidelines implementation and cat-friendly practice by visiting www.pethealthpartnership.org
, clicking on "Resources Toolbox," and inputting a member identification number.