7 Ways to Discuss Heartworm Prevention With Clients
Heartworm disease is one of the most preventable parasitic diseases we see in small animal practice.Yet recent surveys indicate that heartworm infections continue to rise not only in numbers, but also in geographic distribution.
How then can clients be made aware of the importance of heartworm prevention?
1. Deliver the Message
While the veterinary health care team needs to provide clients with the latest information, it is not enough to rely on facts alone. Starting the heartworm conversation with an owner requires a coordinated effort from every member of the team, from the start of the appointment to check out. Clients need to hear a consistent message multiple times in order to assimilate the information and make an informed decision. A consistent message, delivered with conviction by every member of the team, is a powerful tool for changing client behavior.
2. Deal With Disbelief
Clients may give many reasons for declining heartworm testing and prevention. Surprisingly, cost rarely tops the list. Clients’ first reason for declining heartworm testing is that they do not believe in heartworms. Yet it is impossible to be “agnostic” regarding heartworms. They exist, period. We demonstrate this by telling the client about the last patient we treated, discussing how that patient had to be confined for weeks, outlining the expense involved. We employ visual aids, videos, and take home materials, every tool at our disposal—minus the ubiquitous heart in a jar.
3. Address Safety Concerns
The second reason clients refuse testing and prevention for their pet is concern about using ‘chemicals.’ Some clients feel the preventive products just aren’t natural. To address this objection, we explain that the medications are very safe, and that all of our team members, including the doctors, give these same medications to our own pets. This small statement goes a long way toward building clients’ confidence. We also emphasize that there are many processes, like cancer for instance, that are natural and yet cause great harm to our pets.
4. Counter Doubts of Effectiveness
Another objection we’ve encountered recently is, “I heard the medications don’t work anymore.” It is important to address this directly, citing reports on the lack of product efficacy in a small number of dogs in certain geographic regions. Then we explain that, while we cannot claim 100% efficacy, the drugs still work extremely well with most dogs to prevent this life-threatening disease. Testing every animal, even those receiving heartworm preventive, is critical to monitoring the effectiveness of our efforts at controlling heartworm infections.
5. Discuss Complaints About Cost
Finally, we do hear a few objections about the price of testing and prevention. This is nearly always a problem with the perceived value of the service, rather than a true cost objection. While there may be cases where clients do not have money, most clients have a limited amount of money which they allocate according to a list of priorities. Our duty is to educate clients and help them move pet health care higher on the priority list. It does not have to go to the top; it just has to make the cut. For about the cost of a venti latte, we can provide protection against heartworms and other deadly parasites for an entire month. Breaking it down like that often gives clients a new perspective.
6. Use Financial Incentives to Encourage Year-Round Compliance
Once clients agree to heartworm testing and prevention, we find they are more likely to administer the medication properly if we dispense a full year’s supply. Though we occasionally send home fewer doses, most clients take advantage of our financial incentive programs for twelve-dose prescriptions.
7. Take Advantage of Varied Communication Methods
We also communicate with clients monthly by phone, text, email, instant message or mail, reminding them to administer that month’s dose. Clients tell us they appreciate the reminder, and it proves we are committed to their pet’s good health, which helps ensure long-term compliance with heartworm testing and medication as well as their loyalty and return visits.
Accept Your Ratio of Yes’s versus No’s
Keep in mind that when your team commits to having this conversation with every client—about every pet they own—your team will still occasionally hear ‘no’. This is a perfectly acceptable answer. If a client makes that decision with all the facts, then, as health care professionals, we have done our best. But if you educate every single non-compliant client about each of their animals, you will also hear more ‘yes’ answers. This means more pets in your care will live longer, healthier lives—and you will have a healthier practice.
Want some tried-and-tested responses to concerns on heartworm preventives? Download the handout "Getting to YES on Heartworm Preventives."
Educating clients to shift them from non-compliant to fully compliant is not easy, but it is well worth the effort. Expect a learning curve—for both your healthcare team and your clients. You will spend more time answering questions at first. Compliance growth may begin slowly, but it will build over time. And, as your entire healthcare team—from the receptionist, to the kennel person, to every technician and doctor—becomes comfortable starting ‘the heartworm conversation’ with clients, your practice will grow. Once this unified communication protocol becomes second nature, you can use these same principles to expand into exciting new areas like advanced dentistry and dental radiography or physical therapy and rehabilitation.
How about a video to show clients live heartworm surgery? Consider this brief 7-minute clip to demonstrate what can happen without consistent use of heartworm preventives.
For related articles, please see the following:
Intestinal Parasite/Zoonotic Detection & Prevention Protocol
From Confusion to Compliance: Educating Clients to Overcome Resistance