Educate clients about screening for heart problems
Whether it's a whippet with weight loss, a fainting fox terrier, or simply a middle-aged mixed breed with a poor appetite, a cardiac screening offers important diagnostic information and opens the door to educate clients about their pets' health risks. Here's a quick guide for how to improve client compliance with your hearty advice.
Which patients to screen
Dr. Pam Whiting, owner of Windsor Oaks Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Calif., offers cardiac screenings for several types of patients at her practice. "We often use it for elderly pets when we run a general panel for health reasons or as a baseline for breeds with genetic predispositions for cardiac disease, regardless of age," she says. "We also use it for any patient with clinical or suspected cardiac disease, such as pets with heart murmurs or hyperthyroid cats, and when we have a pet with pulmonary disease and wonder about cardiac involvement. We are hoping this test will also be useful to monitor cardiac improvement with medications."
For a list of dog breeds commonly affected with heart disorders such as atrioventricular insufficiency, dilated cardiomyopathy, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, see "Breeds commonly affected by heart disorders." But make sure all of your clients are aware of the risks—even if their pets are in a low-risk category.
How to get clients on board
You know the benefit of good information. But testing costs money. So how do you convince clients to invest in tests that will offer you a clearer picture of their pets' health—particularly their cardiac health?
Dr. Whiting includes a discounted cardiac screening with the pet's standard blood work. It's only a small charge on the invoice, so clients are much more likely to agree to the test. "Clients are sometimes put off by the cost of a standalone test, but they often agree to a cardiac screening when you present it as a significantly discounted test added to a panel," she says.
The results of the blood work, along with other diagnostic clues from the pet's physical examination, will help you determine whether follow-up tests are needed. "Blood testing isn't a replacement for ultrasound and radiographs, but it offers information before clients invest in additional diagnostics," Dr. Whiting says.
Smarter clients, better results
Educated clients are better pet owners. So make sure clients are aware of the common signs of heart disease, such as coughing, fatigue, poor appetite, and fainting (see the related links below for a client handout: "Keeping an eye on your pet's heart"). Remind them to contact you with any unusual behavior—regardless of the pet’s age or breed—so you can examine the pet and make the best recommendation. With the right information, you can offer advice for the appropriate diet, exercise regimen, and veterinary care to help pets live longer, healthier lives.