Inside AAHA: September 2020

Margot Vahrenwald, DVM, points out that everyone on the practice team has a role in providing excellent customer service; a promo for the new 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines; Dear AAHA addresses where to seek financial assistance after a disaster; and VMI is accepting applicants.

View from the Board

“Customer service should not be a department, customer service is everyone’s job.”
—Ken Blanchard

FEW THINGS IN ANY VETERINARY PRACTICE ARE MORE IMPORTANT than customer service. But in the face of continuing demands on the time of every veterinary team member, sometimes it is the hardest work we do. There are many guides and ways to articulate customer service, but the actual delivery can be as difficult as managing all the different personalities on your team.

There is the Disney Way, the Ritz-Carlton Way, the E-Myth Veterinarian Way, and many, many more—all of those books are on my shelf, and I’ve personally put into our practice something from each. But really, there is no one perfect way to deliver the best customer service beyond being as client-centric as you are patient-centric. What works best in your practice and with your team is going to be closely related to the overall personality and values of the practice, but there has to be consistent, repetitive training to get those individual personalities to have an automaticity in the delivery of customer service that leads clients through a positive experience at every contact point.

As we always knew, and have seen more with the pandemic, it only takes one adverse or aggressive client interaction to dull a team member’s enthusiasm for serving others, just as it takes one negative interaction with your practice to make the client a detractor. Training is essential to developing consistency as much as it is for developing the resilience to deal with and recover from those negatives and then go help the next client with the same level of positivity.

Every person on the veterinary team is responsible for customer service—not every person from among the diverse groups in your or my practice is going to love client care, but all have to learn how they can best serve a customer’s needs in their interactions with the practice.

This month’s article on customer service and the many wonderful articles available in the Trends archive are great resources for creating a road map for your practice’s customer service training points.

Margot Vahrenwald
Margot Vahrenwald, DVM, is a director on the AAHA board. Vahrenwald started her career in communications, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from the University of Georgia in 1987 and a master’s degree in public communications from American University in 1990 before returning to school to study veterinary medicine. She earned her DVM at Colorado State University in 2000 and completed a small-animal internship and worked for four years as a staff veterinarian at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, DC, before returning to Colorado in 2004, where she opened Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center in 2011. Vahrenwald’s professional interests include preventive care, dentistry, marketing, and client education.

New AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines Urge a Tailored Approach

AAHA and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) brought together a task force to examine the most current feline vaccination research, and they found that a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply.

The 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines encourage practitioners to expand their understanding of feline patients’ risks based on circumstances beyond the age-old question of “indoor or outdoor” to include other lifestyle factors and infectious disease exposure risks.

“There was a time when cats were vaccinated for certain diseases based solely on whether they went outside or not,” said AAHA Senior Veterinary Officer Heather Loenser, DVM. “Focusing on that single factor seldom told the whole picture. Continuing to tailor vaccine protocols for individual cats and their unique lifestyles remains a way to build bonds with cats and their caregivers.”

The new guidelines are supported by a lifestyle-based feline vaccine calculator and include:

  • FAQs and tips for staff on asking the right questions
  • Recommendations for core and noncore vaccines for pet and shelter-housed cats
  • An update on feline injection-site sarcomas
  • Considerations for attenuated, inactivated, and recombinant vaccines

A web conference summarizing the must-see and clinically important sections of the guidelines (available in October)
“In order to achieve this level of tailored care for our feline patients, the whole team needs to ask the right questions,” said Deputy Chief Executive Officer Jan Trumpeter, DVM. “The guidelines suggest that often a better question than, ‘Is he indoor or outdoor?’ is ‘How does he spend his time?’ ‘With whom does she share her home?’ or ‘Describe his typical day.’”

Vaccination is a key part of a preventive healthcare plan. The 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines urge clear communication with pet owners about how veterinary teams assess disease risk and make vaccine recommendations.
The guidelines were published in the Sep/Oct issue of JAAHA, Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, and in volume 22, issue 9, of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., Elanco Animal Health, Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis Petcare supported the development of the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines and resources through an educational grant to AAHA.

Hands-On Prep to Be a Veterinary Leader

Veterinary Management Institute (VMI) Accepting Applicants

VMI is the perfect balance of in-person and online learning to advance executive-level veterinary professionals to a higher level. With 63 in-person and up to 21 online CE hours, VMI allows you to meet the CVPM CE credit-hour requirement through a single educational program.

Presented in collaboration with Colorado State University’s College of Business, the 10-month-long VMI requires online work and a monthly time commitment, as well as three 2.5-day in-person sessions running Thursday through Saturday, typically in February, June, and November.

The real meat of the program is in the capstone project, which requires attendees to identify and compose solutions to a specific challenge in their current work environments. If you feel ready to lead your practice to greatness, VMI is a great place to start.

Register now to join the next VMI cohort, which begins in February 2021. 


Dear AAHA,

We recently had a fire that took out our phones, power, and internet. We are able to see patients in a separate building, but we need to rebuild. Are there any step-by-step guidelines for recovering from a fire? Specifically, we need to know about pharmacy laws (such as what drugs are still usable), financial assistance, and any other aid programs.

—Fire in Fort Worth

Dear Fire in Fort Worth,

We are so sorry to hear about your loss. In terms of aid, you might start with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, both of which offer locator services to get localized help. For pharmacy laws, consult the Texas State Board of Pharmacy and Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. The Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation is also a good resource. We wish you luck in your recovery!

—AAHA’s Member Experience Team

Have a question you’d like AAHA to answer? Email us at [email protected].

AAHA Meetings and Events

AAHA is closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19 and we will continue to follow recommended public health guidelines leading up to all scheduled AAHA events.

Veterinary Management Series:
Culture, HR, and Marketing

Virtual | September 9–12

Veterinary Management Institute

Virtual | November 19–21

Connexity by AAHA

Virtual | September 30–October 3


Register for a learning program and learn more about AAHA’s upcoming events.

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