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Veterinarian Technician May 2009 (Vol 30, No 5)

Practice Team Integral to Pet Owner Compliance

by Marie Rosenthal

    PHOENIX — The entire practice team has to work together if a veterinary hospital is going to increase pet owner compliance, according to John Albers, DVM, who recently reported the findings of The Follow-up Compliance Project here at the AAHA Phoenix 2009 meeting.

    "In practices that paid attention to compliance, there was really high awareness on the part of the practice teams that improving compliance was improving patient care," said Albers, who is executive director of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

    The Follow-up Compliance Project was an update of a 2003 study that measured client compliance in veterinary hospitals. "We went back to look at what had happened during the 5 years since the first study was published," said Albers, adding that AAHA wanted to know if clinics made any strides in increasing compliance. The answer was "yes," he said.

    "In 2008, if practices made an effort — it just doesn't happen on its own, you have to make an effort — compliance did go up," Albers said.

    The 2003 study found that pet owner compliance with practice guidelines was generally poor. In addition, the study found a gap between what the veterinarian recommended and what the client understood that recommendation to be. "We confused giving information and understanding the same information to the point that clients would take action," he said.

    In 2003, most practices believed that poor compliance was a client's failure to follow recommendations. In 2008, practices realized that veterinarians and their staff had a responsibility to make sure that clients understood and acted.

    "If we believe that patients need to have certain things done periodically to maintain their health and wellness, then we have a responsibility to make sure that owners are in compliance with our recommendations.

    "And practice teams get it," Albers said. "They understand that part of the responsibility for ensuring client awareness rests on them. It's not a matter of simply handing clients a brochure."

    The 2003 study looked at prescription diets, heartworm prevention, heartworm testing, vaccination, dentistry, senior pet screening and preanesthetic screening and found that overall compliance was 64%, but the percentage was skewed because vaccine compliance was relatively high and increased the overall average, according to Albers. "Com­pliance in some areas, such as den­tistry and senior screening, was around 20% to 30% in 2003," Albers said.

    The 2008 study, which used the same parameters, found that average compliance increased to 73% and the biggest increases were seen in senior pet screening and preanesthetic screening, according to Albers. Of the 2,000 pets that were included in the 2008 study, the average age was a little higher than in 2003, so that might account for some of the increases.

    AAHA found that recommendations were clearly indicated in the record more often in 2008 than in 2003, more recommendations were printed on the invoice and more reminders were sent to clients.

    "In 2003, when we asked who was responsible for compliance, 40% said that compliance is a practice responsibility and 60% said it is a client responsibility, but in 2008, those numbers were exactly reversed — 60% said it was a practice responsibility, and 40% said it was a client responsibility," Albers explained.

    Compliance does not take a large investment in capital, computer software or staff, but it does take time and commitment, reminded Albers.

    "This is not an area where an owner can go back to the practice manager or head technician and say, 'Make sure you improve compliance. Do something about it.' It [takes] real commitment and buy-in on the part of the practice leadership, and it has to be sustained over time.

    "What it really means is getting the whole staff together and agreeing on what your guidelines are for good care in your practice. And we cannot emphasize enough that everyone has to agree with the guidelines because if a head technician or an associate veterinarian doesn't think a guideline or protocol is good for the practice, that opinion will undermine the effort."

    AAHA plans to publish the information, as well as develop tools to help practices improve their compliance. The 2003 study was supported by an educational grant from Hill's Pet Nutrition; the 2008 study was supported by Pfizer Animal Health.

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    Did you know... At least two-thirds of pet owners in the US and Europe turn to their vet or vet assistant about their pet's health. The second most popular source is online with over half (59%) of all pet owners likely to go to websites for information. Read More

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