Have you ever had a client come to your clinic frustrated because their dog’s skin infection hasn’t resolved? As you look through the record and discuss the history, you realize the pet only received half of the prescribed antibiotics. The owners say they thought the pet was better and didn’t schedule the recommended recheck. Cases like these are not unique and can make client compliance seem like the lost holy grail of veterinary medicine.
Client compliance plays a critical role in patient health—from preventative care to management of acute and chronic conditions. Research into factors affecting client compliance are limited in veterinary medicine and tend to focus on compliance with short-term treatments, such as administration of a course of antibiotics.1
While compliance with medication administration is important for both acute and chronic conditions, the concept of client compliance extends beyond adherence to drug therapy. Compliance includes whether clients return for follow-up visits, schedule annual examinations, follow preventative care protocols, and accept recommended diagnostics and treatments.
Clearly communicating the importance of recommendations and educating clients is a key part of improving compliance. But we can go a step further to help our patients by improving client compliance through embracing technology, changing the way our clinics operate, and helping clients prepare for unexpected medical expenses.
For example, here are six tools veterinary clinics can use to improve client compliance:
Several long-acting medications have been developed for veterinary patients in the past several years. Their benefit to improving client compliance is obvious. These products are applied or administered in the veterinary clinic and take the dosing out of the owner’s hands. No longer do we need to worry if medications are administered appropriately at home. Additionally, we can improve the human-animal bond by eliminating the need for owners to struggle with pets who are resistant to being medicated, which may encourage them to seek treatment earlier.
It seems like every company has an app these days — you can order food, pay your bills, check your credit score, kill some time playing games, check your email, and more, all from your phone. In 2019, over 80% of Americans owned a smartphone. On average, smart phone users spent approximately 3 hours per day on their smart phones, with 90% of this time spent using apps.
Why not take advantage of these trends by offering your clients an app?
Veterinary practice apps can allow clients to have access to their pet’s vaccination records, schedule appointments, receive reminders, and more. These apps offer an easy line of communication to owners and can personalize reminders, increasing the chance that your clients will engage with your clinic to schedule the recommended care for their pet.
Additionally, some clinics create loyalty rewards programs through their app to encourage clients to use their services and purchase products right from the clinic.
We live in a world where our primary means of communication became virtual nearly overnight. Telemedicine platforms offer veterinarians and clients another way to communicate—through chats and video conferencing.
It is an easy way to perform a post-operative recheck, medical progress examination, or quality of life consultation. Veterinarians and their staff spend a large amount of time on the phone answering client questions and telehealth platforms allow us to capture revenue from these conversations.
The best part of telemedicine is that clients are interested. In a survey of clients who had utilized a third-party telehealth platform, over 90% of respondents who had a primary veterinarian stated they would utilize a telemedicine service if it were offered by their vet.
Having a virtual option for performing follow-up visits and communicating with clients can improve compliance - especially for those clients who have busy schedules and aren’t always able to physically bring their pet in for an appointment.
The concept of forward booking has been around for several years and is widely used in human medicine, especially in dentistry.
The concept is simple: book the next appointment before the client walks out of your exam room.
By booking the next medical progress examination, booster vaccine appointment or even 6- or 12-month routine examination before the client leaves, you have eliminated the need for the client to remember to call and schedule their appointment.
In a clinic with a busy schedule where last-minute appointments are hard to come by, this can be invaluable to keeping pets on the right schedule for an owner who might otherwise forget to make that phone call weeks or months in advance of the needed appointment.
Auto-ship through an online pharmacy:
If your clinic has its own online pharmacy, you keep more pharmacy business in your clinic. Many online pharmacies have an “auto-ship” feature on products, which allows pet parents to receive their preventatives, long-term medications and prescription diets on a set schedule.
Just as automating bills makes it easier to keep up with household expenses without the stress of late payments, auto-shipping essential products for each patient removes the stress and time of calling in a refill and driving to the clinic to pick it up. It also lessens the stress on vet team members who will have fewer phone calls to take regarding refills and more time to attend to patients in the building instead of filling prescription requests for hours at a time.
Financial limitations are the most common reason that clients are unable to receive veterinary care.
Some expenses can be planned for, such as vaccinations, screening blood work, preventatives, and even long-term medications and monitoring bloodwork. But in the event of an illness or emergency, having funds available for a potentially large, unexpected expense can be difficult. In a survey conducted by Pawlicy Advisor (a pet insurance marketplace) across tens of thousands of pet powners, only 20% could pay a $5000 unexpected bill out of pocket. Thirty percent would seek financing, but the remaining 50% would be unable to pay.
By discussing pet insurance with your clients before they are in a situation where finances dictate the level of care their pet can receive and the number of recommendations that they can follow, we can improve outcomes for our patients. While pet insurance does not cover the cost up front, knowing that a large reimbursement is coming may give some clients more financial flexibility in these frustrating situations. Additionally, some pet insurance plans now include wellness packages, which can help keep your clients on the right track with recommended vaccinations, preventatives and routine health screenings.
Wareham KJ, Brennan ML, Dean R. Systematic review of the factors affecting cat and dog owner compliance with pharmaceutical treatment recommendations. Vet Rec 2018: doi:10.1136/vr.104793.
Pew Research Center. Mobile Fact Sheet. Available at https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/. Accessed November 17, 2020.
Wurmser Y. US time spent with mobile 2019. Available at https://www.emarketer.com/content/us-time-spent-with-mobile-2019. Accessed November 17, 2020.
Roca RY and McCarthy RJ. Impact of Telemedicine on the Traditional Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship. Topics in Companion An Med 2019;37. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tcam.2019.100359)
Access to Veterinary Care Coalition. Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy. Available at https://pphe.utk.edu/access-to-veterinary-care-coalition-avcc/. Accessed July 3, 2019.
Fascinating Pet Insurance Statistics from 2019-2020: Breeds, Pre-Existing Conditions, Pet Names and More. Available at https://www.pawlicy.com/blog/pet-insurance-statistics-2019-2020/#vet_bill