Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News
Tens of thousands of dollars in additional revenue may be a series of phone calls away for U.S. veterinary hospitals.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council and Bayer Animal Health in January released the results of a survey that found that 90 percent of U.S. pet owners want to hear about local spikes in pests such as disease-carrying ticks and heartworm-transmitting mosquitoes. Pet owners are willing to open their wallets, too, with 89 percent saying they likely would schedule an appointment to get their pet tested if a heightened parasite risk was communicated.
The survey’s sponsors forecast that a two-doctor practice that informed clients about urgent parasitic risks in their home county and delivered related services could generate from $163,000 to $789,000 a year in extra revenue, depending on the level of pet owner response.
“It’s amazing what some fairly simple changes can do financially for our profession,” said Karen E. Felsted, MS, DVM, CPA, CVPM, founder of president of PantheraT, a practice consulting firm in Dallas. She is the former CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.
Dr. Felsted was joined by CAPC leaders Susan E. Little, DVM, Ph.D., and Christopher Carpenter, DVM, MBA, and Bayer executive Cristiano von Simson, DVM, MBA, for the report’s release at the North American Veterinary Community conference in Orlando, Fla.
The survey of 2,000 pet owners revealed that two-thirds would like to be alerted immediately when their home county experiences a high incidence of parasites.
What surprised Felsted was that 55 percent of pet owners want to get the news in a telephone call.
“That might be a little scary to veterinary practices—‘Oh my god, it’s time consuming, I don’t have time to talk to clients’—but we forget that the old standards of communication work really, really well,” she said. “That’s an easy opportunity that practices could fit into their daily routine.”
Email notification was the preferred communications vehicle, with 79 percent approval. Given the choice of multiple means of contact, 39 percent were open to a postcard, 16 percent to a social media message and 13 percent to a newsletter.
Veterinarians don’t have to become field investigators to determine the current parasite threat. CAPC provides state and county updates using test results from Idexx and Antech laboratories.
Practitioners and hospital staff may request free monthly emailed reports at www.capcvet.org/parasite-prevalence- maps.
“It takes five seconds to sign up, literally,” said Dr. Carpenter, CAPC’s executive director.
Keeping clients better informed about parasite threats could be a financial turning point for veterinary practices, Carpenter noted.
“This is something we’ve been talking about since 2011—about the fact that we don’t know what will drive people into the clinics,” he said. “There’s been whole groups established to help that, and we now know that parasite information is a driver.”
Dr. Little, the CAPC president and an Oklahoma State University parasitology professor, wondered going into the survey whether pet owners cared about parasites. Seventy-seven percent of the respondents said they were concerned about heartworm.
“I know as a parasitologist and a researcher, ‘Yeah, heartworm matters a lot,’” she said. “It may matter more now than ever before because of the advent of resistance to the preventives, because of problems with diagnosing and getting good, quality adulticide treatment. The risk of infection is high.
“We think there are approximately 1 million pet dogs infected with heartworm in the United States,” she added. “That’s tragic. This is a horrible, potentially fatal infection that we can prevent if we’re allowed to deliver the health care that our veterinary patients deserve.”
The risk of heartworm infection is high because of large mosquito populations, Little added.
“Many areas of the country are experiencing higher mosquito populations than ever before for a variety of reasons,” she said. “There are lots of day-feeding mosquitoes that are out now that weren’t out historically.”
The survey revealed that 80 percent of pet owners reported that they administer heartworm preventive—a number that veterinarians may scoff at.
“The cynical veterinarian would say, ‘Clients lie,’” Little said, “but the optimist in me says 80 percent of them think they’re using preventive, want to use preventive … want to do the right thing.
“We have to help them do the right thing—not once a year, not with something they buy at a big-box store that they think is a preventive but is not,” she added. “They have to be using a preventive from their veterinarian. They just need a little more education.”
The education isn’t happening at many hospitals. Among the 400 veterinarians who were questioned, only 55 percent said they discussed vector-borne diseases with clients.
The No. 1 reason that veterinarians do not discuss parasites: “We don’t think clients are interested in knowing more,” according to the survey.
Communication about parasites must start and be reinforced inside the clinic, Felsted said.
“There has to be a system in place to make sure we have these conversations all the time,” she said. “Team members need to understand which pets are susceptible to these diseases, what team members are supposed to say to clients, whose role is it to talk about different stages. We need to have follow-ups so the technician talks about it, the veterinarian talks about it, the receptionist makes sure the clients got all the information they needed.
“We need visual aids,” Felsted added. “We need to make sure that conversations are then followed up with on the website, the newsletters, social media, handouts.”