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Compendium January 2010 (Vol 32, No 1)

In Practice: How to Maximize Compliance in a Weak Economy

by Beth Thompson, VMD

    Veterinary practices are not immune to the effects of an economic slowdown. Practices that thrive do so by improving business management, increasing efficiency, and focusing on client compliance.

    When the economy is weak, practices must work harder to promote revenue growth, control expenses, and improve productivity.1 It has never been more important to run your business efficiently and effectively.

    To analyze the economic health of your veterinary practice, you should first examine your revenue and costs. Lack of profitability may result from revenues that are too low. If the number of transactions has declined, you will want to focus on getting more clients into the practice more frequently. Start by focusing on the clients you already have. Improving overall pet care by boosting compliance with existing clientele can significantly increase the health of your practice.

    Problem: Pet Owners Don't Realize the Importance of Compliance

    In 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) reported a landmark study on pet owner compliance.2 The key finding? Most veterinarians believed that a high percentage of clients complied with their recommendations when, in fact, many clients were not actually following through with the pet care instructions given. Following publication of this study, efforts to increase compliance rates became a focus for much of the veterinary profession.

    In the 6 years since that AAHA study was released, veterinarians have been much more in tune with the real compliance picture and have taken greater strides to educate pet owners. In March 2009, AAHA presented its follow-up study,3 and this time the story was a bit different: compliance was up in practices that made an effort to increase it. The key finding of this study was that compliance was much improved in practices that believed it was their responsibility—not the owners'—to ensure compliance with their recommendations.

    Practices can incorporate effective education and communication strategies in a number of ways. The most successful strategies involve every member of a pet's health care team—including pet owners—to ensure that recommendations are followed.

    Solution #1: Educate Clients Better in the Clinic

    Like everyone else, pet owners are bombarded with all sorts of information throughout the day. It is not reasonable to expect a client to follow a recommendation that he or she hears only once. This is particularly true for someone who is upset because a beloved pet is seriously ill or injured.

    Instead, it is important for every team member the client encounters to reiterate the veterinarian's recommendations. Staff involvement is vital to achieving compliance. The message usually begins with the technician, who is often the first person to talk with the client about the pet's health. It is then reinforced and expanded on by the veterinarian and is reiterated by the front office staff at checkout. Clients who understand why a particular service recommendation is being made are more likely to follow that recommendation.

    In addition to spoken and demonstrated recommendations from the health care team, giving clients printed information helps to drive the message home. Brochures and handouts are a great way to remind clients of your recommendations once they leave the clinic. Clearly presented graphics and text that take diverse client education and literacy levels into account increase the usefulness of client handouts.

    Solution #2: Communicate More Effectively with Clients Outside the Clinic

    A dedicated practice's efforts to help clients understand the importance of compliance don't stop at the clinic door. Below are some cost-effective ways you can achieve your goals of increasing compliance even after the client has gone home. By covering all communication avenues—from print to e-mail to phone calls—you increase your chances of improving compliance visits. Your practice management software can also be a great tool in helping you achieve your compliance goals.

    • Maximize your practice management software codes. Ensure that your codes for reminder services and products are both standardized within the practice and specific for more accurate tracking. Expand the criteria to make sure you remind for all services and products, such as dentistry and medication monitoring for pets on long-term drugs.4
    • Research postal reminder card services. Sending a postcard is the most common method veterinary practices use to remind clients about upcoming services. Leading practice management consultants recommend using third-party sources for reminder cards, and many options are available. Look for a provider that offers these important elements:
    1. Quality: These cards are a reflection of your practice. Make sure you are proud to have your name on them.
    2. Impact: Are the cards specific enough to reach your audience? Are they personalized for the pet? Breed specific? Are you able to include the message you want?
    3. Cost-effectiveness: Some cards might be lower priced or even provided for free, but staff time, printer ink, and individual mailing costs may make them more expensive in the long run. Consider automated services that include postage.
    4. Care: Many clients appreciate a personal sympathy note after a pet has died or been euthanized. However, accidentally receiving a reminder card for a deceased pet may be painful. Ensure that a reliable system is in place to prevent reminder cards from being sent for pets that clients no longer have.
    • Use e-mail, text, and voice message reminder services. It's important to communicate with your clients by their preferred method. Many pet owners spend most of their day in front of a computer and use mobile devices to check e-mail frequently. Having an automated service that can track effectiveness and provide useful reporting is recommended. A recent survey showed an average reminder compliance increase of 31% when practices combined efficient e-mail reminders with engaging postal reminder cards.5 Other avenues to consider are automated voice-mail messages or text messaging as additional means of reminder communication.
    • Offer clients integrated communication platforms. Relatively new to the market are extensions of your practice management software that effectively reach your clients through multiple communication methods. Through these automated services, you can offer private, personalized pet health Web sites that your clients can use to learn about overdue or upcoming services, request appointments, order prescription refills, and print their pet's vaccination history.

    Solution #3: Enlist the Help of Others

    • Involve your staff. Your staff is on the "front lines" when it comes to dealing with clients, and their expertise should not be undervalued. Set up a brainstorming session with your team to see if they have any recommendations for increasing compliance. In addition, when preparing patient files for the next day's appointments, have your staff check to see if it's time for any additional follow-up services that are not part of the appointment. By involving the entire team in the process, you might get more than excellent ideas—you may find yourself with a more engaged staff and better communications with your clients.
    • Consult a practice management expert. Just as your clients turn to you for how to care for their pets, veterinary practices often turn to practice management experts for advice. Consultants can tailor a program to suit your needs and your budget. From staff training to program implementation, outsourcing these needs can allow your practice to perform more efficiently.


    Sometimes the most challenging conditions can create more effective actions. By analyzing your current activities and identifying ways to improve compliance, you can increase your office visits and revenues—and save time and money in the process. Developing a comprehensive long-term strategy for increasing compliance will ultimately result in healthier pets, happier clients, and increased revenue for your practice.

    About Vetstreet

    Vetstreet is an online communication engine with comprehensive tools and strategies to help veterinary practices better connect with their clients. Our tools partner with practice Web sites to provide benefits to both pet owners and practices. Services include Pet Portals (private, secure, personalized pet heath Web sites), automated e-mail and postal reminder communications, a convenient online store with products and pricing that you select, and an extensive and validated pet health library. All of these features are proven to help achieve compliance and grow veterinary practices. Learn more about Vetstreet by visiting Vetstreet.com.

    1. Felsted KE. Weathering the economy. National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues. Accessed June 2009 at NCVEI.org/articles/ETarticle112008.pdf.

    2. American Animal Hospital Association. The Path to High-Quality Care: Practical Tips for Improving Compliance. Lakewood, CO; AAHA Press; 2003.

    3. American Animal Hospital Association. Compliance: Taking Quality Care to the Next Level Executive Summary. Lakewood, CO: AAHA Press; 2009.

    4. Myers W. Get team members involved in improving compliance. Communication Solutions for Veterinarians. Accessed June 2009 at www.csvets.com/library.htm.

    5. VetInsite. Internal data on file. Yardley, PA: 2008.

    References »

    NEXT: Client Handout — Feline Upper Airway Infections


    Did you know... According to the Well-Managed Practices Benchmarks 2009 study, clients spend an average of $440/year on medical care for their pets.Read More

    These Care Guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions. They are formatted to print and give to your clients for their information.

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