National Pet Wellness Month kicked off in October 2004, but Dr. Michael Rehm has been emphasizing twice-yearly physical exams
and annual blood screenings since the 1980s. He's been making a point of asking pet owners who want top-notch care to bring
in pets for a good look at least every six months. If you're lacking confidence in recommending wellness visits—once or twice
a year—check out the strategies this four-hospital owner in Mobile, Ala., uses to encourage client compliance.
EXPLAIN THE DANGER OF HIDDEN PROBLEMS
Dr. Rehm tells clients that many conditions won't show up to the naked eye at home. He's found plenty of intestinal masses,
bladder stones, dental disease, renal disease, and parasites in his diagnostic screenings and regular physical exams. He explains
to clients that about 13 percent of pets that come into his practice that look fine actually have hidden problems uncovered
by a thorough physical exam and screening. "A lot of these things are preventable," he says. "For dental disease, for instance,
we can recommend a cleaning or a diet change at grade 1 on the scale, instead of grades 2 and 3, and avoid a lot of gum recession
and periodontal disease." Clients appreciate the logic in detecting problems early rather then dealing with painful conditions
and expensive treatments and surgeries down the road.
EMPHASIZE THE GOOD NEWS
Some of Dr. Rehm's colleagues have told him they feel that delivering a clean bill of health to clients after a wellness exam
is a bit embarrassing. But good news isn't "wasting people's money," Dr. Rehm says. "Sometimes veterinarians feel bad when
they run blood work and they don't find anything. But that's the time to compliment pet owners and tell them they're doing
a good job keeping their pet healthy."
DON'T IGNORE THE LITTLE THINGS
The flip side of worrying about wasting your clients' money on wellness protocols is dismissing the small problems you find.
"We don't need to make up diseases. We're not imagining things when numbers are slightly elevated," Dr. Rehm says. "It's not
scaring the client to say we want to monitor this." Dr. Rehm emphasizes to clients that early detection of slightly elevated
cholesterol or other screened conditions can often be fixed with a change in diet or supplements.
REWARD THE PET OWNER
In addition to congratulating clients on their pets' healthy physical exams and stellar blood work, Dr. Rehm also encourages
everyone to bring new puppies and kittens in for a year of discounts. If clients prepay for necessary vaccines in the pet's
first year, they receive a $100 discount and 20 percent off all services for the first year. That includes everything from
wellness exams and diagnostics to pet food and grooming services.
Before starting the discount program, however, Dr. Rehm looked at the cost to his practices and made sure it benefited everyone.
"Pets live longer with the program, clients are happy getting a great deal, and veterinarians and staff get paid," he says.