Heartworm compliance study: Just because you’re sick of talking about heartworm prevention doesn’t mean your clients are

The secret to getting pet owners to stay compliant with heartworm preventives?

Frequent and frank conversations with your clients, according to a new study sponsored by Ceva. The findings were presented in an online webinar on April 24. (The webinar is a RACE-approved one-hour CE course.)

Researchers wanted to understand why consumers don’t use these products consistently. Among their findings:

·         There’s a direct correlation between a pet owner’s relationship with their veterinarian and consistent and correct usage of heartworm prevention

·         Pet owners who have frequent and frank conversations with their veterinarian have fewer issues with the cost and actual administration of the preventives

·         Pet owners want to hear from their veterinarian about potential risks to their dog’s health and wellbeing. They’re looking to their veterinarian to provide recommendations on how they can best protect the health of their pets

A couple of interesting statistics from the study:

·         Only 25% of dogs receive heartworm preventives regularly

·         One-third of heartworm preventive buyers purchased preventives during the past year

Here’s one particularly alarming statistic: 27% of dog owners believed they were giving their dogs heartworm preventives when, in fact, they were administering flea and tick protection.

NEWStat reached out to Karen Padgett, DVM, a coauthor of the study, one of the webinar presenters, and president of the consultancy firm Unfenced, which managed the study, to find out more.

NEWStat: Did the study turn up anything you weren’t expecting?

Karen Padgett: We thought pet owners would tell us they were having more conversations than they did. I think in practice, we believe everyone in the hospital is talking about this issue and being understood [by clients] but the numbers didn’t bear that out. So staff may be tired of the conversation and tired of being told “no.” But pet owners aren’t tired of it yet.

NEWStat:What, for you, was the most surprising fact turned up by the study? The most unexpected statistic?

KP: We were also surprised to find so many people who were confused about the products they were using. But we didn’t expect 27% to believe they were providing a heartworm preventive when they were really just protecting their dogs from fleas and ticks. These are clients who want to do the right thing for their dogs, and think that they are, but they’re simply confused.

NEWStat: What advice do you have for veterinarians and hospital staff who are “tired of having the conversation” about heartworm prevention? What can we do to motivate them to keep trying to educate clients who are equally tired of hearing the conversation?

KP: I encourage veterinary professionals to stop thinking that clients are tired of hearing about heartworm disease. Pet owners told us they simply aren’t having these conversations during every visit.

We also must take steps to validate what the pet owner understands about heartworm disease and why they are saying “no” to administering a preventive that could save the pet’s life. In the study, many of the reasons that dog owners gave for not using a preventive came down to a lack of understanding about the risk pets face, how preventives work, the safety of these products, and the benefits they provide.

It’s also important to define roles and responsibilities to ensure the conversation is happening and happening in a way which motivates clients to provide this protection for their dogs. And make sure it happens. Offer staff incentives, make this initiative part of the annual review process, and share ideas [about] what’s working and what isn’t. And depending on your hospital’s culture, think about creating a competitive atmosphere to engage your team. Every conversation has the potential to save a life.

NEWStat: Has the study changed the way you think about heartworm prevention?

KP: I thought dog owners knew more about the disease and how to prevent it. But they don’t. For the confused users, I don’t believe they received bad information at the hospital that confused them about preventives and what they do or don’t do—there are a variety of reasons why a client could forget or receive bad information after they leave the hospital. That’s why it’s on us to continue to educate and recommend a heartworm preventive during every appointment and every visit to the [hospital]. And importantly, in between appointments, using all of the virtual communication methods that are available to practices.

NEWStat:What is your biggest takeaway from the study?

Pet owners still rely on their veterinarian to provide expert advice to ensure they are providing the best possible care for their pet. The most compliant users have the strongest relationships with their veterinarian and have more frequent conversations with them about the risk of heartworm prevention and the risk their pets face.

NEWStat:What would you like veterinarians to take away from the study?

KP: [That they] have a real opportunity to improve compliance. But new approaches are needed. We can’t be afraid to engage in conversation. We must ask open-ended questions and use active listening techniques to understand what’s motivating pet owners who don’t think preventives are essential. [A] deep understanding of what drives pet owners is the only way for us to convince more pet owners [that] this is an essential part of their pet’s healthcare regimen.

Our patients’ lives depend on it, and it’s our responsibility as a profession to stop the real spread of this preventable disease.

Photo credit: © iStock/PeopleImgages

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