AAEP convention covers lots of ground

From proper communication to muscle diseases
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AAEP convention hall
(Photos courtesy of AAEP)

Equine veterinarians have plenty to chew on these days.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners’ 58th Annual Convention, Dec. 1-5, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif., provided a forum for discussions on a number of pressing issues. Welfare concerns such as medication in horse racing (see article) and soring of Walking Horses (article) were the focus of a few sessions, as were scope-of-practice matters (article) and the declining number of horse owners (article).

Other continuing education sessions covered topics including joint therapies, developments in medicine, the anatomy of the equine foot, field emergencies, techniques for ultrasound, caring for orphan foals, and reproductive challenges.

The Kester News Hour once again relayed important medical news with a review of studies published in the past year. Dr. Patrick M. McCue handled reproduction, Dr. Lisa A. Fortie covered surgery, and Dr. Stephen M. Reed discussed medicine.

In all, the five-day meeting attracted 5,730 veterinary professionals, students, guests, and exhibitors.

Hearing what others have to say

Incoming AAEP President Ann E. Dwyer (article) addressed attendees at the opening session on how the AAEP hopes to help improve equine practices.

She said while the association can’t change the economics of the industry, its members can develop stronger relations with their clients so that economic shifts are easier to weather.

The AAEP conducted a survey in September 2012 with horse owners and trainers; 6,100 people responded. Most clients—85 percent—said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their current veterinarian, and 87 percent would recommend their veterinarian to others.

The first step in strengthening that relationship is to figure out what one values in the other, she said. The AAEP conducted a survey in September 2012 with horse owners and trainers; 6,100 people responded.

Most clients—85 percent—said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their current veterinarian, and 87 percent would recommend their veterinarian to others.

Notably, though, when asked whether they’ve ever switched veterinarians, more than half had fired their veterinarians or chosen another. The primary reasons—listed in descending order of importance—were poor communication, lack of availability, misdiagnosis, and cost.

Racehorse owners, specifically, put more value on their practitioner’s knowledge of breed and industry. Sport horse owners valued advanced diagnostics and imaging. All owners and trainers expect veterinarians to be able to travel to the horse and provide emergency services.

The survey showed opportunities for improvement in the areas of communication, knowledge of developments in equine medicine, and lameness skills, Dr. Dwyer said.

An area of concern for the AAEP emerged from the survey question posed to owners and clients about services they receive from someone other than their primary veterinarian.

“Twenty-five percent said they have used another provider for dental care, most often a layperson. A few did take their horse to a veterinarian who truly was a specialist, but most, when asked, had a perception that lay providers were specialists,” Dr. Dwyer said.

“This shows the perception of being an expert is out there, even if the individual in question doesn’t hold a veterinary degree.”

Full results from the survey will be shared later this year at www.aaep.org.

Connect, convey, convince

In her convention keynote address, “Talk Less, Say More,” journalist Connie Dieken challenged audience members to take a new look at how to use influence as a means to become the communicator clients want them to be, as outlined in the client survey.

“I see a huge difference between your intent and your impact; you intend to get as many animals (as possible) in a day, but your impact could obliterate this,” she said. “Have you turned a client off when you didn’t intend to? You’re busy being efficient, getting everything done, but maybe a client was turned off.”

Dr. Stephanie J. Valberg, this year’s Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecturer, mapped the diagnosis and management of exertional muscle disorders.

Dieken identified three habits of the most successful influencers: the abilities to connect, convey, and convince.

Connecting means capturing people’s attention. This can be done by reading the client as well as the animal, understanding resistance and knowledge gaps of the client, being candid, and listening.

To successfully convey information, Dieken suggested using “portion control.”

“Some of us have the fire hydrant habit of inundating clients with information so they know how much we know. That’s not helpful, because a confused brain doesn’t remember anything,” she said.

Giving clients visuals such as radiographs or showing them conditions on the animal’s body, as well as telling stories, can help convey information, too.

Finally, to convince others, Dieken encouraged practitioners to be cognizant of their body language and energy and to use short sentences.

Incorporating these traits will boost the influence factor with clients, she said. The return on influence, according to Dieken, is clients for life, payments from absent owners, and respect for boundaries from others.

Untying causes of tying up

Another featured speaker at the meeting was equine muscle diseases expert Dr. Stephanie J. Valberg. She laid out for equine practitioners tactics to diagnose and manage exertional muscle disorders during her Dec. 3 Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture, “Muscling in on the Cause of Tying Up.”

Following a review of historical research into exertional rhabdomyolysis, Dr. Valberg discussed her ongoing research into the disease, which she said could be managed by improving the horse’s energy supply through a combination of diet and regular exercise. Specifically, Dr. Valberg recommended moderating dietary starch to lower the horse’s insulin concentration. She encouraged attendees to emphasize to owners of ER-affected horses that a dietary change alone is ineffective without daily exercise. Even minimal exercise of 10 to 20 minutes per day with turnout has a beneficial effect.

Dr. Valberg is the first female practitioner selected to deliver the lecture. She also was a student of Dr. Milne’s in 1982 at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College. Dr. Valberg received her DVM degree in 1983 and her doctorate from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala. She is director of the University of Minnesota Leatherdale Equine Center. She is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and certified in veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation.

Through her clinical research, Dr. Valberg has identified new equine muscle disorders, including polysaccharide storage myopathy, recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis, glycogen branching enzyme deficiency, and immune-mediated myopathies. Her current research focuses on identifying the heritable basis for neuromuscular disorders and developing genetic tests.