Pets aren't getting the dental care they need at your veterinary hospital?

Make every month Dental Health Month at your veterinary practice to get clients in the door for crucial preventive screening.
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Jan 08, 2014

The story so far

In the November issue of Veterinary Economics, we helped a theoretical practice owner—Dr. Andrew Jereme of Brighton Animal Hospital—identify payment alternatives for his clients. He has been practicing medicine at the same location for 30 years. As the town grew, so did the practice, which now has 4.5 full-time-equivalent doctors.

Dr. Jereme has expanded the availability of these payment options in his practice, making it easier for clients to take better care of their pets and also improve his practice’s financial health. With these alternatives in place, he is now ready to focus on expanding the practice’s emphasis on dentistry. Although Dr. Jereme is a strong advocate of preventive dentistry, he realizes this hasn’t been reflected in the number of procedures performed at the practice. He bought a digital dental radiology unit a year ago, but now calculates that it’s used only 10 percent of the time dental prophylaxes are done.

The data

According to Benchmarks 2013: A Study of Well-Managed Practices, average revenue from dentistry for a Well-Managed Practice is 2.5 percent, but Dr. Jereme knows some practices generate much more in dental revenue than this. Unfortunately, he’s not one of them. In 2012, only 1 percent of Dr. Jereme’s revenue came from dentistry, and so far it looks like 2013 will be much the same. Dr. Jereme wants to double that in 2014.

The solution

Dr. Jereme knows that he can’t do this on his own. First, he puts together a dental task force made up of one veterinarian, two technicians and a receptionist. These individuals will be responsible for overseeing the expansion of dental care, as well as making sure that all employees are well trained on how to perform dental procedures and are able to communicate their importance to clients. The task force will meet at least every other week until the program gets off the ground, which he hopes will occur within the span of two to three months. In order to ensure the new emphasis on dental care will remain rooted in the practice’s culture, he also intends to keep the task force in place for at least a year. They will meet every month to review progress and assess the need for future staff training and client education.

Next, Dr. Jereme calls his vendors to request as much dentistry education and as many wet labs as they can make available. He also calls the manufacturer of his digital dental radiology unit and asks for someone to come back and retrain the doctors and technicians.

Dr. Jereme has a long list of tasks for his first meeting with the task force, including:

> Complete a practice-wide dental goals chart for 2014 that will be shared with the entire team. Download a sample here.

> Create a monthly goal sheet for each veterinarian. Download a sample here.

> Perform a medical record audit to determine how frequently dental grade assessments are recorded and estimates are provided for patients with a Grade 2 or above rating. For a rundown on dental charting, click here.

> Design a team approach with specific responsibilities for each team member so that every pet owner gets the oral assessment, the dental estimate and education about the importance of dental care. Click here to see what role each team member plays in dental care. For more dental training resources, click here.

> Improve client education materials on dentistry: brochures, posters showing different stages of dental disease, website materials, etc. Check out our dental toolkit for resources.

> Include dental radiographs in both the low-end and high-end range of costs in standard dental estimates. (Currently, they are only included in the high-end cost estimates, which effectively means they aren’t done very often.)

> Design discharge instructions that include a diagram of the mouth and what was done, as well as “before” and “after” photos. Click here to check out additional suggestions for what to include in your plans and other discharge tips.

> Include articles, stories and pictures about dental care in the practice’s marketing materials: website, newsletters, Facebook and other marketing media and programs. Need ideas? Here are some ready-to-use posts to use or to help you write your own.

> Change the practice philosophy to “Every month is Dental Health Month” and offer a small incentive to clients who schedule their pet’s dental within 30 days of receiving an estimate.

While there is much work to be done, the potential for both practice growth and improved quality of care make it worth Dr. Jereme’s while. So get your own veterinary practice on board with dental care to ensure all your patients are getting crucial dental attention and avoiding those larger health problems—in the long run, it will help your clinic succeed.

Dr. Karen Felsted is the president of Felsted Veterinary Consulting. Jessica Goodman Lee joined Brakke Consulting in 2011.