A case study on improving compliance - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

A case study on improving compliance

JULIE GRAY explains how excellent communications, well-trained and knowledgeable staff and competitive pricing plans have enabled her practice to achieve high rates of compliance

ENCOURAGING compliance is an ongoing challenge facing veterinary practices today. While there are clear benefits of good preventive healthcare, getting clients into the practice to start or complete protocols for vaccinations and on-going flea and worming treatments is a constant concern.

At Abbeyfields veterinary practice in Rocester on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire borders, compliance means ensuring our customers follow up our suggested treatments and advice concerning preventive healthcare.

We want our clients to take responsibility for managing their pets’ healthcare, which means being diligent about check-ups and contacting or visiting the practice if they note anything unusual. We attribute our high compliance rates to excellent communication, well-trained and knowledgeable staff and competitive pricing plans.

The practice prides itself on developing good relationships with our customers, whether in terms of time spent with clients in the examination room, specific verbal or written instructions or encouragement for follow-up.

Fifteen minute consultations

All clients are offered appointments of a minimum 15 minutes’ duration, so they do not feel rushed during consultations.

Our vets offer to follow-up appointments with a phone call to make sure that the customer has understood the issues and fully understands the treatment plan which has been offered, or just the course of action recommended, as it is not always about treating but about managing health or behaviour.

Clients are advised during their appointment that we will call them a week or so later to find out how the animal is and to see if they need to be brought back.

We are a small, non-specialist practice and despite our rural location, our main clients are companion animals. We have one part-time and two full-time vets, working alongside a team of nurses and administration staff.

We all work together to provide the best possible service to our clients and are very focused on achieving excellent rates of compliance.

We hold regular staff meetings as it is vital that all staff at the practice understand the importance of compliance. Professional development is ongoing at Abbeyfields and we make use of manufacturer training materials to keep all employees up to speed with the technical aspects of their role.

As part of the RCVS CPD guidelines, we regularly emphasise the importance of various aspects of preventive healthcare. Our employees respond well to the ongoing training and we have good staff retention – our most senior nurse has been with us for 17 years! This continuity helps us to develop customer loyalty and client retention rates.

The practice reminder system comprises sending out a series of reminder cards for vaccination and has a high response rate. We have a response rate of approximately 70% at the first round; a month later we will send another reminder to the remaining 30% which results in between 20 and 25% making appointments.

Best response from mail

Our drop-off rate is around 5%. In the past we have tried sending online reminders and text messages but we have found the best response in our area comes from mail.

We are constantly reviewing our approach to compliance and a decline in sales of worm and flea treatments over the past couple of years led us to further consider the various factors that could be influencing this.

General sales licensing now allows pet shops and supermarkets to stock a range of flea and worming treatments, which are also promoted through television advertising campaigns, and at one point we saw our sales of these products fall by 25%.

This was of particular concern, not least because the number of flea infestations appeared to be growing, not declining. Even more worrying, we had several cases of customers buying the wrong products, such as over-the-counter dog products for use on cats and the toxicity of these can cause a nervous reaction or even death in cats.

Initially, we tried to compete by offering various incentives and special deals but I found I was spending an increasing amount of time on this rather than concentrating on being a vet first and foremost.

We therefore needed another solution. We had already joined the Premier Vet Alliance (PVA) buying group in 2011 which had made a significant difference to the practice, in terms of our competitive offering and ultimately our profitability.

This meant that without having to spend anything extra, I was able to take advantage of bulk discounts – as much as 43% from one manufacturer – and I have been able to pass this discount onto clients, which is of particular importance given the current economic climate.

Pet care plan

The success of the buying group led me to look at other ways of remaining competitive whilst still maintaining my priority of hands-on veterinary work so I decided to replace the practice’s existing loyalty discount scheme with the PVA Pet Care Plan.

PVA supports practices to continually improve clinical standards and encourages business growth and since joining their Pet Care Plan, we have further improved compliance in the practice.

Clients are offered a package which includes worm and flea treatment. It also includes a range of inclusive services such as vaccines, chips, nail clips and a six-monthly health check, plus 10% off pet foods and any other surgery. This has had the effect of bringing back some of the custom that had been lost to supermarkets.

We have had very positive feedback from customers who like the structure of a simple monthly fee which takes care of all routine health care and removes the headache of deciding what they can and can’t afford.

Prior to linking up with PVA, we used to attend local agricultural shows and charity fairs to promote our services but now we market the scheme through our website and related social media sites, Facebook and Twitter. Information about the scheme is also provided in our e-newsletters and flyers and leaflets in the practice.

We take a gentle approach with our clients and although we will suggest and recommend that they take up our pet care plan as the best option for their animals, there is no hard sell. It is all about what is best for them and their animals.

All the staff say the same things and it is key to ensure that one message is repeated by every person with whom clients interact at the practice. They need to measure and weigh up their options, but hearing a consistent message helps reinforce the importance of compliance.

Although non-compliance can threaten the well-being of animals as well as the survival of the practice, it is possible to make relatively small changes to the running of the practice to counter this.

By combining external services, such as those offered by PVA, with well-trained staff who communicate well with clients, Abbeyfields practice has been able to increase compliance and keep customer and staff satisfaction levels high whilst regulating cash flow for the practice.

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