Your phone has been ringing off the hook with concerned clients calling about the pet food recall and you and your team are running around answering what seems like hundreds of questions a day. They key to managing the situation? These doctors are focusing on getting their team on the same page and communicating the most up-to-date information they can to their clients.
Are you calling your clients? If so, are you calling all clients or just those you know are affected by the recalls?
Cheryl Waterman, practice manager at the Cat Clinic of Johnson County in Lenexa, Kan.: When we found out that the latest therapeutic diet had been recalled, we generated a list of clients who had purchased it from us in the last three months and then we called all 93 of them. If they had any of the food on hand, we asked them to bring it back to the clinic and we credited their account for it.
What other avenues are you using to educate your clients about the recall?
Waterman: We developed a list of every client that had visited the clinic for any reason within the last year and sent them a letter with the AAHA announcement attached. We told clients to call us first if they had any questions. We also posted information in the reception area and treatment area, and we talked to team members about what the process should be when clients called so everyone was on the same page. We discussed the need to encourage clients to bring their cats in for blood work and a physical exam and then take it from there depending on any clinical signs.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Dennis Cloud: We developed a script for team members to use when clients call. We also directed clients to the AVMA and Menu Foods Web sites for updates. We update our script with the latest information as it comes out. And we tell clients that if a pet has been exposed, they should bring it in for blood work and a urinalysis. We give clients who bring in their exposed pets a handout about renal disease.
The number of phone calls we’ve received is unbelievable, and the experience was frustrating in the beginning. Veterinarians were the last to be informed about this problem. So we didn’t have much to tell clients other than what was in the news.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Ernest E. Ward Jr.: Our team developed a handout listing all the recalled foods and then we highlighted any brands we recommended or knew our clients were using. Then we contacted the local media and sent out press releases. We also contacted local animal rescue organizations and animal shelters and referred them to Web sites that offered complete information about the recall.
How do you respond to clients who call with concerns? What protocols are you following?
Waterman: If clients have any concerns, we encourage them to come in for blood work, and in some cases we do a urinalysis—depending on the signs and on how long the cat ate the recalled food. We’ve done a lot of extra blood work but it’s been worth it. And it’s great if we don’t find anything wrong. In a lot of cases, we’ve had baseline blood work to compare to—and in a lot of cases some values have been elevated.
Dr. Cloud: If any pet has been exposed, whether dog or cat, we recommend an appointment for blood work and urinalysis. If the pet hasn’t been exposed, I tell the client not to panic. The trouble is, in the beginning, we had trouble getting the information we needed to educate our clients. Someone from our team was on VIN every couple of hours to check for updates. If a client wasn’t sure his or her pet had been exposed, I had him or her come in anyway and we conducted blood work and a urinalysis.
Dr. Ward: We’ve armed our clients with lots of information and we’ve been calm and methodical. I think that has allayed clients’ fears. Once you explain the clinical signs of any problem—and clients aren’t seeing those signs—they generally feel calmer. Of course, we do basic blood and urine tests if a client is still concerned about the pet’s health. So far, we haven’t seen a single pet that got sick from the food.
How do you make sure your team is disseminating the correct information?
Waterman: We had a team meeting to discuss the situation. We discussed the importance of baseline blood work even for cats that are 2 or 3 years old because then we’ve got those values in their file.
Dr. Cloud: This situation caught us off guard, so that first day was hard, but by the second day we had a typed-up sheet of what team members should say to clients. When we could, we had the doctors try to talk to clients about the situation. But we got so many calls that it was hard to do.
Dr. Ward: The evening I first heard about the recall I sent out a quick e-mail to the entire staff alerting them to the issue. That way, everyone arrived at the clinic the next morning prepared. We put a handout I created on the doors, checkout counters, and in each room. We even had grocery stores calling us to ask what they should take off the shelves. We gave them whatever information we had.
What has been the most difficult aspect of managing the recall?
Waterman: It’s been hard to keep up with what’s going on. That first day, we couldn’t get through to any of the informational hotlines and some of the Web sites were down. We were at a loss in the beginning. And we wanted to be sure we were on top of things and giving our clients the right information—you don’t want to put forth information that’s not credible.
Dr. Cloud: I think the hardest thing was that clients were disenchanted with the whole situation and didn’t know where to go for information. Our job has been to tell them to stay in touch with us. And it’s hard—the information is changing so fast. If we had known about this right away we would’ve sent clients a letter, but even a letter wouldn’t have done much good due to the constantly changing situation.
Dr. Ward: We’ve recommended diets that are now on the recall list, and that’s where I’m having the hardest conversations with clients. Clients want to know why the premium food I recommend is on the list and yet there’s a less expensive version out there that’s not being recalled. I’m getting hard questions from clients and I have hard questions myself that have yet to be answered. I tell clients that we’re still learning all the details of the situation. I want to make sure I’m fully informed about how these foods are manufactured, and I’ve been assured by our reps that they’ll give us as much information as we need to feel comfortable with our recommendations in the future.
Have clients brought up anything you didn’t expect?
Dr. Cloud: We had a few clients, not many, that couldn’t get an opportunity to holler and complain to the food companies, so they hollered at us. They were mad and couldn’t get anybody on the phone. The only human they could reach was at our clinic. We tell them not to shoot the messenger. And we reassure them that the veterinary profession is trying to stay on top of this.
We’ve also had clients ask about switching to homemade diets. We aren’t discouraging that, but we’re telling them that it’s hard to maintain a long-term homemade diet. We copy information from a nutrition book and hand that out to those clients considering a homemade diet.