Communicating with clients key to preventive care

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While gearing up to launch a consumer campaign, Partners for Healthy Pets is stepping up efforts to help practitioners promote preventive care to clients.

AAHA conference attendees
Attendees at the American Animal Hospital Association conference participate in discussion during a session on "Clearing the Hurdle: Communicating the Cost of Veterinary Care."​ (Photo by Katie Burns)

The coalition of more than 60 organizations, including the AVMA and American Animal Hospital Association, has a mission “to ensure that pets receive the preventive healthcare they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian.”

Partners for Healthy Pets logo

At veterinary conferences, Partners for Healthy Pets has been demonstrating its free online resource toolbox for practitioners and organizing sessions on topics in preventive care. The AAHA conference in March featured a day of sessions on communication with clients that was sponsored by Idexx Laboratories Inc. and through a strategic alliance with the coalition.

“There’s a gap that exists between what we as a veterinary profession believe and communicate about preventative pet health care and what pet owners understand about preventative pet health care,” said Dr. Jason B. Coe, speaker for the sessions and chair in communications at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College.

Communication strategies

The series of sessions explored communication with clients regarding preventive care and other veterinary care. Dr. Coe and audience members discussed strategies for delivering an effective care recommendation, overcoming communication barriers, communicating the cost of care, and activating the veterinary team to achieve optimal outcomes.

Dr. Coe said a lack of time is among the barriers to communication in the examination room. One strategy is to set the agenda for the appointment up front by soliciting concerns, listening, screening for further concerns, and confirming the list.

Client misinformation and client resistance are other barriers to communication. Dr. Coe recommended exploring the client’s perspective, then framing recommendations in response to that perspective.

“We can break communication into two global patterns. One is a veterinarian-centered approach, which is very focused on information delivery—so, developing a well-conceived, well-delivered message, launching it into the air and letting it smack down onto the client, much like a shot put,” Dr. Coe said.

Dr. Coe quote

“The other approach is a more relationship-centered approach. It has been described or equated to a Frisbee approach, where if I throw you the Frisbee, you catch it, and you’re going to throw it back, and we’re going to go back and forth on a regular basis.”

He said the Frisbee approach results in greater client satisfaction and adherence to recommendations but does not necessarily take more time.

Communicating about the cost of care poses its own problems. Dr. Coe found an atmosphere of suspicion exists among pet owners about the motivations behind veterinarians’ recommendations in “A focus group study of veterinarians’ and pet owners’ perceptions of the monetary aspects of veterinary care” (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007;231:1510–1518).

“It’s not that we don’t share with them the time and service we’re providing, but it’s about going that next step to really communicate where’s the value both from preventative care as well as all other care to the health and well-being of their animal,” Dr. Coe said.

Dr. Coe said three valuable communication tools for difficult cost conversations are empathy statements, partnership statements, and “I wish” statements. Empathy statements start with phrases such as “I can see that you” or “I can appreciate that you.” Partnership statements incorporate terms such as “we,” “us,” “let’s,” and “together.” Statements starting with “I wish” also can help diminish conflict.

Promoting prevention

In late summer, Partners for Healthy Pets will launch its consumer campaign to promote the value of preventive care. In late May, with the support of member companies, the coalition will start a practice enrollment program to engage practices in discussing preventive care with clients.

Brenda Andresen, Partners for Healthy Pets marketing and project director, said sales representatives for the member companies will talk with practitioners about coming on board with the coalition’s efforts. The enrollment program will point practitioners toward the online resource toolbox.

“We’re really trying to make it easy for practice teams to talk with their clients about the importance of preventive care by putting in their hands ready-to-go materials,” Andresen said.

Partners for Healthy Pets launched the toolbox at last year’s AVMA convention. Among the most popular tools are the AVMA-AAHA guidelines for preventive care and the “Words That Work” videos illustrating ways to improve communication with clients, Andresen said. Practitioners also have shown a lot of interest in tools for offering annual care plans to clients.

Other tools include a survey to assess the perspectives of clients and the veterinary team on preventive care, resources on Internet marketing and social media, and resources on cat-friendly practice.

Andresen said practitioners can take a tidbit here and a tidbit there from the toolbox to meet the needs in their practice.

“Good practices are already talking about preventive pet care, but this helps you take it that extra step,” Andresen said. “If the pet owner isn’t truly understanding the critical importance, then it’s not going to have the effect we all want.”

Veterinary professionals can access the toolbox by visiting Partners for Healthy Pets and clicking on “Resources Toolbox.”