Parasite Conversations That Work

Is lack of compliance bugging you?

By Debbie Boone, CVPM

Is Lack of Compliance Bugging You?

In the early days of data mining, my practice had someone dig into our charts to perform a compliance study. We knew we were good at getting clients to purchase products and we could see that we had patients coming in who were parasite-free. When the results showed 87% compliance on preventive care, the team was disappointed because our goal was 100%—but we discovered we were still above the norm by a high margin.

The question I am often asked is “How did you manage that?” The answer is simple. Train your team, and build great relationships with your clients. Both take consistent effort.

Building Connections

Everyone who has ever worked in a veterinary practice has had a client accuse them of only wanting to sell them products or services “for the money.” This usually means that we haven’t spent the time to make a good personal connection with the client. When clients know that we are concerned about their needs and the well-being of not just the pet, but them and their family, the odds of teaching them why parasite prevention matters improve.

But how do we make those connections?

The first step is to actively listen to the clients from the first encounter on the phone to the last goodbye as they check out. Often our teams are shorthanded and overwhelmed, especially at the front desk. Calls are pouring in, clients are lined up at the desk waiting to check in or out, not to mention the random person who pops in for a medication refill or to pick up pet supplies. It is difficult to consider taking the time to “chitchat” with all that commotion. But connections can happen in a few seconds if we pay attention.

One of the most consistent errors I see in veterinary practices is the lack of sufficient staff on the front desk. These team members are your front line, and how they connect with the clients they serve sets the tone for the remainder of the visit.

Our customer service representatives (CSRs) should be trained to observe and actively listen to clients. Subtle cues in conversations can be picked up and expanded into teaching moments. For example, a client calls to make an appointment for routine vaccinations but casually mentions the dog is chewing and itching. The CSR should catch that comment and question the client for more details. Once they discover the pet is not taking a parasite preventive or they do a quick history lookup to see the client is behind on prevention purchases, they can lay the groundwork by suggesting to the client that the pet may have fleas and a note will be made for the doctor to discuss the itching and chewing.

CRSs managing phone calls

One of the most consistent errors I see in veterinary practices is the lack of sufficient staff on the front desk.

Now the client is mentally prepared for a discussion about the pet’s itching, and the medical team is given a leg up when they step up to the plate.

Great Compliance is a Team Sport

The second step is to have the entire team trained on a consistent message. Often practice owners will bemoan the fact that they are just too busy to take time to train. This is like saying you are too busy to clean or too busy to collect payment or perform surgery. Training is a part of good business. We make time for what we want to do and believe is important.

One reason often given by staff members for leaving their current employer is a lack of training and growth. People like to feel competent and knowledgeable, and if we don’t train them on our standards and protocols they will always feel as if the rug is going to be pulled from under their feet at any moment. Clients also pick up on this uncertainty and tend to not believe the team when they offer service and product education.

We must start with all the doctors on the team agreeing on which products, services, and protocols the practice follows. AAHA standards and guidelines are always a great base to build upon. If every doctor has their own protocol and product choice, then confusion reigns.

AAHA’s booklet Implementing Preventive Care Protocols states: ”Getting staff buy-in is important for the success and ‘stickiness’ of the protocols within the practice. If your staff believe in the value of the protocols in place, they will consistently and organically engage in conversations about preventive care with clients and encourage participation.” (You can read the entire booklet here: Implementing Preventive Care Protocols)

Not only is it impossible to train a team to a standard you don’t have, but it is also incredibly unfair to expect top performance from people when there are multiple answers to a basic question like “What flea prevention do you recommend?” Keep your top two products in stock and, if needed, utilize your online pharmacy for the variables. You inventory manager will be happier and so will your bookkeeper.

CSR going over parasite prevention information with clients

Clients will question everyone in the practice about care for their pet. Therefore, it is imperative that the entire team be taught the same protocols.

Clients will question everyone in the practice about care for their pet. Therefore, it is imperative that the entire team be taught the same protocols. If Mrs. Jones asks Dr. A what preventive she should use and a recommendation is given, when she comes to the front desk and grumbles about the cost, the CSR should, with confidence, be able to reassure her that her money will be well spent because of how well it works.

However, without this training, it is possible that the CSR agrees that it is expensive and may suggest a less expensive product that can be purchased at the local feed store. The client then leaves unsure of her decision even if she still purchased the product from the practice. This uncertainty leads to lack of trust and loops us back to the “you are only in it for the money” accusation.

Printable Fact Sheet
for Your Team

Parasites Fact Sheet

Building training materials can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be for parasites. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) has built guidelines and tools for hospitals to use (see the infographic on page 25). Manufacturers also provide practices with support materials, but it is best to have agnostic materials when you are using them for team educational purposes. With CAPC, you can search by parasite or by species, and also look at the region of the country in which you live to discover the incidence of parasite-transmitted diseases. Each parasite has a synopsis, overview of the lifecycle, description of the disease, and prevalence, which can be utilized for team training. Because of the multitude of products on the market, another handy tool is the Quick Product Reference Guide on the CAPC site,

Products are listed by which parasites they prevent, the route of administration, and FDA or EPA approval status. Since clients will find products in pet stores, feedstores, and online sites that are not typically sold in veterinary clinics, this chart is very helpful when comparing efficacy against specific parasites. You can even search products by dog or cat and by parasite. If you want to find a product for a cat with tapeworms, a quick search brings up four options.

All veterinary team members should be trained on parasites common to the location of the hospital. The CAPC website allows searches down to the county level. For example, a search for tick-borne disease in South Carolina’s Horry County where I live shows that in 2022, over 750 dogs tested positive for Lyme, over 500 for Ehrlichiosis, and over 400 for Anaplasmosis out of 39,000 tested pets. This is information that practices can easily use to support the importance of a tick preventive in the local area. Many people in South Carolina do not consider Lyme a risk since it was a “northern” disease when originally discovered. This data is great content for social media posts.

Training team on parasite protocols

All veterinary team members should be trained on parasites common to the location of the hospital.

Practices should take advantage of the Flea Forecast. According to the CAPC website, “CAPC now offers a daily Flea Forecast at that displays flea activity across the United States, based on environmental conditions. The Flea Forecasts also offer a unique look at the historical movement of fleas through a video animation, showing changes in flea activity over the previous 12-month period.”

A general knowledge of parasites outside the norm is always a good idea. Our society is more mobile than ever, and as clients move in from outside our area, they bring pets with parasites along with their luggage. Perhaps we should add a question to our history about the location of the previous home, or recognizing that some clients are “snowbirds” with two homes in different areas, we should increase our awareness of diseases in both locations.

Free tools are always appreciated, and CAPC has one. You can download the CAPC Internal Parasite ID app from the Play or App Store and replace that big paper poster with the curled edges hanging in your lab. Use the app as part of your medical team training.

You could play a game on the app—ID THE OVA—and pull up the pictures on a tablet. The app pops up pictures of prepped slides like a flashcard; then you tap the photo to flip it and find the answer. I played and thought it was fun, even though I haven’t looked through a microscope in 20 years, I still identified Giardia. The slides are sorted by canine, feline, reptile, avian, and small mammal.

Often clients consider parasites a problem only their pets have. Using our observation skills, we can discover if they have children or grandchildren who live or visit their home or have immunocompromised friends or family. Sharing the risk to the human family can add to the value of the preventive products we prescribe. Although rare, humans do contract parasites, and a visit to the CDC website contains a good article about “Transmission of Parasitic Diseases” and a specific article about “Infections in Children.” The article “What Every Pet Owner Should Know About Roundworms & Hookworms” provides a good overview and is printable for sharing with clients.

Knowledge is power, and with the tools available to practices, we can educate our team so they can in turn educate our clients. Trust is created when our clients know we care about them and their pets. Among other things, our profession swears an oath to provide the best care to our patients and to promote public health.

To that end, it is our duty to train our teams not to just know about medical care but to be able to communicate the importance and value of that care to our clients in a way they understand, embrace and follow through. Our goal—100% compliance.

Photo credits: ©AAHA/Robin Taylor, Aja Koska/E+ via Getty Images, FatCamera/E+ via Getty Images, ©AAHA/Alison Silverman, blueringmedia, alexkava, corbac40, Bulgakova Kristina, Usagi-D, TimoninaIryna/iStock via Getty Images Plus, bergserg/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images



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