Communicating with equine clients about West Nile virus


Communicating with equine clients about West Nile virus

Mobile practitioners, follow these tips to handle horse-health conversations on the go.
Jun 01, 2011

It can be tough to have a serious medical conversation with a rushed client in the field. But your conversations about West Nile virus and other serious diseases can be much easier if you lay a good foundation for communication with clients early, says Dr. Gregory Smith, who co-owns East County Large Animal Hospital in El Cajon, Calif.

Dr. Smith says his high compliance rate with West Nile virus vaccination is due to his educated clientele, and he enjoys working with horse owners who rely on his team to do what’s best for their horses. To keep client relationships strong, he and his team members use several methods of communication to stay connected with clients. Consider these ideas to reach out to horse owners on the go.

In the digital age, you’ve got the ability to choose the communication methods that best suit you and your clients. So if you’re feeling cut short during your truckside conversations with horse owners, it might be time to explore other approaches to keep your message in front of clients.

Dr. Smith estimates he communicates with clients at least six times a year. And these interactions range from veterinary visits, reminder calls, and educational seminars to social events and practice newsletters.

“We plan four physical client functions a year where we invite them to the clinic and we feed them and provide them with a party atmosphere or client education,” Smith says. “We send eight to 10 newsletters a year. And we’re on Facebook. So if something comes up in the middle of the week, it gets shot out. If we see a case of West Nile, bang, it will be shot out that afternoon to all the Facebook people and a couple days later as a mass e-mail.”

If you can’t face the idea of Facebook and Twitter sounds more like something birds do, you’re not alone. Dr. Smith says he relies on his partner and associate to handle the social networking sites because they enjoy it. And you just might have a team member in your practice who can take over these duties if you ask.

Dr. Smith says out of all the online communication options, his Web site has generated the most interaction with clients so far. Clients feel comfortable contacting him with questions like, “How soon do I vaccinate a foal?” and “At what point is it safe to vaccinate my pregnant mare with West Nile vaccine?”

Online communication is great, but some education and interaction has to happen face to face. If you’re working out of your truck, it’s hard to see how you can host an educational or social event for clients. But Dr. Smith says it’s possible if you use your imagination.

“Find a good client who has a ranch or a beautiful place and you them if you can hold an event at their place. Or try the local VFW or the library,” Dr. Smith says. “Working as an ambulatory practitioner out of your garage shouldn’t hold you back.”

And remember, the key to effective communication with clients is to keep it simple. When you explain the risks of West Nile and discuss vaccinations, focus your message. “People can’t remember more than one or two things at a time,” Dr. Smith says. “So you’ve got to say, ‘Here’s what you need to remember.’”

And if you’re feeling rushed, don’t hesitate to refer clients to the online sources you recommend and tell them to call you with their questions. “Your job is to get the information in front of the client so they can make the right decisions,” Dr. Smith says.