Ready to create a heartworm prevention program that works for everyone? Use these checklists to get your, err, foot in the door and move clients to get on board with heartworm prevention. You can use some—or all—of the ideas below to craft a plan that works for you, your team and your clients.
Open the door wide with team education
How much does your team know about heartworm disease, treatment and prevention? Before they can be true heartworm-stopping advocates, you must educate them about the value of prevention.
Everyone on your team needs to know how pets get infected and how different preventions work, so try:
Quizzing the team on infection stages and timelines and how the most common preventives work, such as how long they're active in a pet's system.
Agreeing on practice protocols. How often does your practice recommend heartworm testing? Do you retest in 6 months after missed dose(s)? Do you recommend testing for cats?
The strongest recommendations for heartworm preventive from team members often comes from folks who use and believe in prevention. Make sure all your team members' pets are on preventives and tested yearly. Consider offering a general employee discount for heartworm prevention and testing, but only when they keep their pets up to date.
Getting clients in the door
While you customize your approach to adherence based on each individual client's experience, knowledge and needs, you can also make sure you hit the basics for everyone. Don't talk down to clients, but also never assume they know everything about all aspect of heartworm disease, treatment and prevention. Pet owners have been giving heartworm meds for so long, many don't know the details—just that it's important.
Make sure each client knows:
There are no signs until a pet is already sick.
Heartworm disease is not treatable in cats, and the first sign can be sudden death.
Heartworm disease is treatable but expensive, and often leaves permanent damage.
Many practices recommend preventives year-round, because some of the products contain intestinal parasite prevention and treatment (except six-month injectable).
Even 100 percent indoor-only pets—cats and ferrets included—need preventive. And because they take walks and go on trips to the veterinarian and groomer and so on, "indoor" dogs are at risk too.
Turnkey tips for making heartworm preventives and testing: A checklist
• Check records for timing of purchases for preventives.
• Ask clients if they need preventives every visit, and mention it when you make appointments.
• Celebrate compliance by rewarding clients for dosing as recommended.
• Keep just one to two types of heartworm preventives for good in-house inventory control. Offer other types in your home delivery pharmacy.
• Sell single doses in-house (make sure to dispense circular) and in your home delivery pharmacy.
• Create a photo show on exam room computers, on a lobby photo frame, or in exam rooms that includes images of heartworms, parasite prevalence maps and so on.
• Show and tell with a heart with worms in a jar, a model of heartworm disease, Diagnostic Imaging Atlas (DIA) and videos to encourage adherence.
• Create a simple flyer showing lifetime cost vs. disease treatment cost.
• Offer injectable preventives for dogs when appropriate. Remember, these don't prevent intestinal parasites.
• Remind clients that some preventives for heartworms prevent intestinal parasites, which may have a longer “season” than heartworms. Educate clients that young children can (and do) go blind from visceral larva migrans (toxocariasis).
• Share ideas for making preventive measures fun for the pet, such as having a special treat or toy given only with prevention.
• Show how to give meds to pets (pill pockets, proper topical preventive application, pilling the pet and so on.)
• Enlist the help of any children in the household to remind parents to give preventives.
• Encourage pet owners to keep preventives and other pet meds visible and next to pet food or treat storage area.
• Don't shame missed doses.
• Review every record before appointments, and note prevention and testing needs for the rest of the team to use.
• Encourage clients to link up dosing with something that happens in the household on the same day each month—rent, mortgage, car payment and so on.
Pamela Stevenson, CVPM, is a practice management consultant who owns Veterinary Results Management Inc. in Durham, N.C.