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That Space Between Us: What We Say, What Clients Hear

Posted By Christine Shupe, Thursday, February 15, 2018

That Space Between Us: What We Say, What Clients Hear



Partners for Healthy Pets published the results of a study that examined whether clients retain and process what veterinary professionals believe they communicate during preventive healthcare exams. To determine if a disconnect exists, Partners for Healthy Pets employed The Opportunity survey and gathered data over a five year period. Between April 2013 - June 2017, 1,193 staff members and 1,360 pet owners completed surveys. Although more dog owners (833) were surveyed than cat owners (527), pet owners in general are not completely tuned in to what veterinary staff is saying.


Ramifications of poor communication


When clients do not hear what they are being told during the exam, it means they are not fully grasping the significance of what occurs during the office visit and are probably not understanding the importance of the services provided. This lack of attention can impact their attitudes towards veterinary care and negatively effect a pet’s health. When staff communicates clearly and directly, clients are more likely to leave the office feeling relieved that the pain assessment did not reveal any significant issues, as opposed to walking away lacking information and wondering whether the investment of time and money in the visit was worth it.


Identifying the gaps


The Opportunity survey measures communication issues in two areas: gaps related to services performed during an exam and gaps related to the importance of the services performed.


Data related to client awareness of services performed was collected for canine owners and feline owners.

These responses were compared to staff responses about services discussed during the exam. 


According to staff, during a canine preventive healthcare exam, the services that are commonly performed are: dental exams (95%), weight and nutritional assessments (89.5%) and pain assessments (73%). When pet owners were asked if the above-referenced services were discussed during the exam, 77% recalled the dental exam, 77% remembered the weight and nutritional assessment and only 45% had any memory of a pain assessment. These results signal a fairly significant disconnect between what staff report they do and what clients are able to call to mind.


Feline exam results were similar. Ninety-five percent of staff indicated that a dental exam was performed and 78% of clients reported that the exam occurred. Pain assessments were conducted by 68% of staff, yet only 30% of clients said that the assessment was discussed during the visit.

The gap between broad-spectrum parasite control (55% of practices discuss, 44% of clients recall) and internal parasite tests (performed by 54% of practices and remembered by 43% of clients), was not as wide but still significant.


You don’t appreciate me


Underappreciating services can have a bearing on whether clients will use a service and this was illustrated in The Opportunity results.


Staff members characterized the following canine services as important: pain assessment (94%), heartworm test (93%) and behavioral assessment (90%). Clients had a different view of the importance of these services: 80% rated pain assessment as important, 80% said the heartworm test is important and 71% indicated a behavioral assessment is important.


Closing the gap in your practice


The first step in closing the communication gap is to identify specific services that are typically addressed in a preventive healthcare exam and receive feedback from both staff and clients. The Opportunity tool is a great start. It can be downloaded from the Partners for Healthy Pets’ website and is easily administered.


The survey lists 10 services---11 for feline visits---and participants are invited to comment on whether these services were provided or discussed during an office visit. The difference in results can be used to identify the gaps in understanding, or areas in which the practice needs to direct its attention to educate clients. The number of areas that require further attention can range from none to 10.


Once gaps are identified, the Partners for Healthy Pets website contains communication modules with scripts and videos that practices can use to explain the importance of preventive care to their clients. Research shows that even a few words that draw the client in and clarify the purpose of the visit can help them understand how essential preventive care is to their pet.


For more information - check out the Partners for Healthy Pets Opportunity Tool.




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Make Preventive Care a Priority

Posted By Christine Shupe, Monday, January 29, 2018

Even the most assertive clients can be passive…passive about their pets’ healthcare!


Such clients --- and there are many --- contact the practice only when their pets exhibit noticeable symptoms. When clients are unaware that proactive actions and preventive care can have a positive impact on their pets’ longevity and general health, the client and patient suffer. Veterinary professionals must reverse this trend by promoting health by advocating for prevention to achieve better outcomes.


Successfully pitching preventive care to clients is not easy. Guidance and strategy can be an enormous help to veterinary staff. Templates and programs are available to guide professionals through the process. For example, Partners for Healthy Pets offers a Preventive Healthcare Certificate Program that focuses on the tools and resources to communicate the importance of preventive care to clients. Moreover, The VHMA’s Preventive Pet Healthcare, Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION, outlines and proposes steps that can be introduced to promote preventive care. 


To ensure that their patients enjoy good health, practices should make preventive care a priority.

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Posted By Christine Shupe, Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Are empty blocks of time on the practice’s schedule causing you anxiety? Relax, there’s no need to get angsty, get proactive! Forward booking---when done right--- is an effective strategy for filling those appointment slots well in advance.


There are many advantages to implementing forward booking and that is why a number of service industries swear by it, including: dentists, stylists and even car dealers. They get it…there’s value in ensuring clients are locked in to an appointment. Not only are they more likely to return when an appointment is scheduled in advance, most importantly, as in the case of veterinary practices, compliance with the forward booked appointment will ensure the health and well- being of their pet.


However, to paraphrase a well-known axiom, “Forward booker beware.” There is a right way and a wrong way to forward book. A colleague shared the following story. She had purchased a car in May and the dealer wanted to schedule routine maintenance for December. She reluctantly agreed with a bit of a protest. Her remonstrations were typical …it’s too far in advance, I’ll forget.


The dealer assured her that a reminder would be sent in advance and she had the option to switch the date if it no longer worked. Lo and behold, December rolled around and she opened an email and found a service reminder---sent approximately 12 hours before the appointment. Havening forgotten about the appointment she could not rearrange her schedule to keep it so she cancelled. Weeks passed and the dealer did not call to reschedule. Eventually she initiated the call.


What started with good intentions fell off the rails. Bravo to the sales associate who got the appointment on the books. After that, the appointment went into a black hole. The reminder came too late and the dealer never followed-up to reschedule warrants two thumbs down!


The moral of the story is, if you are going to implement forward booking, take it on whole-heartedly so your clients see the value. Keep these suggestions in mind:

·        Get the buy in and commitment of your entire staff.

·        Train staff and provide them with a script for all types of responses.

·        When you book, follow through

·        Provide adequate time to remind clients

·        Contact clients by multiple platforms (email, text, phone)

·        If an appointment falls through and there is no follow-up by the client, be sure to contact the client and reschedule.


Periodic review, feedback from clients and follow-up will help to improve the protocol and ensure the procedures are relevant and applicable over time.


VHMA's Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your Guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION provides a step-by-step guide that helps managers establish a forward booking policy in their practice.  It's as easy as1...2...3...AND IT WORKS!


Don't just take our word for it.....check out these Forward Booking Success Stories.


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It’s Not Only What You Say, But How You Say It

Posted By Christine Shupe, Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Empathetic communication can improve client interactions


You say, “Forward book annual preventive healthcare visits,” Staff says, “Clients won’t do it!”


Staff says, “Surgery!” Clients say, “Not in the budget!”


Although I may be guilty of hyperbole, these examples do underscore a point. When managers attempt to implement new policies and procedures or deliver difficult news, how you communicate matters and can make the difference between the intended recipient embracing or disregarding the message.


You can avoid the uphill battle of convincing others of your position if you meet them at their level, this includes listening and understanding where they are emotionally. At the core of a successful exchange is empathy.


Empathy is defined as: The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner


Incorporating empathy into communication---into both how you listen and respond ensures that what you say will resonate with the listener and increase the likelihood that they will be receptive to the message.


Get off to a good start!


The starting point for all good communications begins with making a connection with the other party. In a practice setting, when speaking to staff and/or clients, eye contact and focus are important. Communication doesn’t have to be formal to work. In fact, if it is too formal and prescribed, it can be off-putting. The key is to be natural and engaged.




Good listeners are active listeners. They hear what is said, formulate a response and respond appropriately. For example, a client who objects to scheduling a pet’s wellness visit a year in advance because he hasn’t even thought about what he’s having for dinner, might reconsider upon hearing, “And that’s the great thing about forward booking, it’s one less thing to worry about!”


Move that body!


All-in listeners know that their body language speaks volumes. Distracted movements distract the speaker. Body movements in moderation convey care and empathy. A head nod or a pat on the shoulder can enhance communications.


Legitimize the feeling


Never criticize, disparage or express outrage at a client’s response. Professionals can accomplish more by acknowledging feelings and then proposing solution. If a client were to say, “I’m planning a cruise. I can’t afford to pay for Dot’s dental surgery,” he may be more amenable to treatment if feelings are recognized before options are proposed.  For example, “I know how essential vacations are and I know that you care about Dot. The practice does offer financing options that may make it possible to address Dot’s dental issues and enjoy a vacation!” Positive statements express a desire to help, thereby reducing the number of roadblocks they may throw in your path.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Although most people are born with it, to provide excellent client communication and patient care it is helpful to ways to enhance and improve it.


To review specific example of how to communicate effectively with clients, patients and staff in a variety of situations, view the videos at






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Putting Out the Welcome Mat for Cats

Posted By Christine Shupe, Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Updated: Saturday, October 28, 2017

Although cats far outnumber dog as pets, cats average about 50 percent fewer veterinary visits per year. Veterinary professionals can ensure that their offices are welcoming to felines and their owners by incorporating cat friendly features into both the physical plan of the practice and the way in which care is delivered by eliminating barriers to veterinary visits and taking  steps to put the comfort and unique needs of the cat first.


Panic at the Clinic


Temperamentally, cats differ from dogs and these differences have an impact on why cat owners are less inclined to seek veterinary care. Even before the cat reaches the clinic, both owner and pet can be operating in full panic mode. Traveling to the office and setting foot in an unfamiliar environment can be alarming.  Upon arrival, stressors lurk at every turn: canines in the reception area, clumsy cat handling by staff and a noisy environment. 


But practices that are sensitive to cats and equipped to address their physical and emotional needs will not only increase veterinary visits, but ultimately improve the health and well-being of cats.


Is the Practice Purr-fectly appointed?


By focusing on these issues, clinics can create a more cat-centric environment:


1.    Support staff training and continuing education efforts that focus on feline handling techniques and special strategies for calming anxious cats. Cats and dogs are unique. Understanding and responding to these differences will equip staff to address to their needs and behaviors more effectively


2.    Take simple steps to create a physical environment that is all about the cat. Cordon off a small seating area with a bookcase or tall plants and obscure the cat’s view of the reception area where other pets congregate.


3.    Become the cat and examine the practice from a feline perspective. From reception area to the exam room, slink through the halls and take a critical view of whether the setting is inviting or off-putting to felines.


4.    Encourage at least one staff member to receive training or become knowledgeable about the complete cycle of feline life stage issues that require special care and attention. As with humans, health issues change as aging occurs.


Follow these suggestions and your practice will be the cat’s meow!


For feline-friendly practice tips and tools visit the Partners for Healthy Pets website.


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PRACTICE CHAMPIONS: Are You Harnessing the Power of Social Media to Connect People to Your Practice?

Posted By Christine Shupe, Monday, March 28, 2016

Ready, set connect! You’ve demonstrated your commitment to promoting preventive pet healthcare by leading the charge to make it a priority in the practice. The team is invested and protocols have been adopted. It’s time to connect the dots by ensuring that your efforts are reaching clients too. Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION has devoted the final chapter to social media and strategies for using it as a powerful client education and marketing tool.


According to a world-wide internet user study conducted by The Washington Post, nearly half of all internet users are active Facebook users! The implication is clear: Facebook can provide practices with great opportunities for connecting with clients. What…your practice isn’t on Facebook? Don’t delay—sign up for a business Facebook page by going to


If your practice is on Facebook, congratulations! But to make sure Facebook is an asset to the practice, be sure that it is active and maintained regularly. Find out who administers the site and look for a pattern that indicates that information is posted with some regularity and that people are reading the posts and commenting.


If you are interested in creating more activity on Facebook, refer to pages 73-75 of the PRACTICE CHAMPION guide which presents tips for improving a practice’s Facebook traffic. The guide suggests liking other sites, sharing content, targeting posts and more.


Improving your practice’s Facebook presence can benefit even more from a plan. Some items that should be addressed in the plan include: the name of the staff person who will maintain Facebook, a list of possible content for the site that will appeal to clients and pre-written posts tied to topics that will cover the practice for 30-days. Because the level of enthusiasm is usually very high when a new endeavor get underway, having content available and a plan to refer to keeps the momentum going when people get busy and other commitments interfere. For more pointers, turn to page 76 in the guide.


As recommended throughout the guide, any plan is a collaborative process that should be reviewed by a supervisor or practice owner. It is also important review the plan with the entire team so they understand the goals they are working toward,


And while you are looking at the practice’s Facebook page, take time to revisit the practice’s website with a fresh perspective. What kind of impression does it make? Is the information current?  Pointers on conducting the review can be found in the guide on page 78.


As with all of the modules outlined in the guide, each chapter offers a comprehensive implementation strategy. Readers are encouraged to review the strategy and incorporate the steps that make sense to their specific situation.


Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION is available to VHMA members for $49 and $89 for non-members.


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Posted By Christine Shupe, Sunday, February 28, 2016

You are an aspiring PRACTICE CHAMPION and an agent of change committed to transforming policies, procedures and attitudes to promote preventive pet healthcare. But how do you impact the behavior of clients? Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION promotes a strategy for addressing this issue—forward booking, a best practice with the potential to increase client compliance and ultimately improve patient health.


Forward booking—the process of booking ALL patients’ next appointments before they leave the office—can increases the odds that patients visit the practice as required and receive appropriate services on schedule.


The forward booking conversation begins with the Practice Leadership Committee. Prep the group for the initial meeting with quality information such as current forward booking protocols, “Forward Booking Appointment: How to Fill Your Appointment Schedules,” downloaded from the Partners for Healthy Pets website, and the results of a survey detailing staff’s impressions of how the procedure is adhered to and implemented within the team.  Comprehensive background material will help to promote a productive meeting discussion.


Issue an invitation to Practice Leadership Committee (PLC) members via email. Be sure to include support documents. Page 64 of the guide provides an e-invite template.


This meeting is called to order

PHP’s “Forward Booking Appointment: How to Fill Your Appointment Schedules,” is the document that should guide the meeting. Several important decisions need to be made by the committee. The guide addresses these decisions on page 66. The practice’s Forward Booking Protocol should emerge from these decisions.


The five essential elements of the protocol are:

  1. A definition of forward booking
  2. A statement that underscore the practice’s commitment to holding itself accountable to implementing forward booking
  3. The agreed-upon forward booking intervals
  4. Definition of the forward booking reminder system
  5. Individual team member’s roles and responsibilities related to forward booking.

The specific elements are discussed in greater detail in the guide on page 67.


Share the draft protocol with the practice owner and circulate the protocol to staff once the owner gives final approval.


Once approved, page 69 outlines a strategy for introducing the protocol to the team. Page 69 is a good source of specific information about how to work with the team to ensure success.


Periodic review, follow-up and improvement to the protocol will ensure the procedures are relevant and applicable over time.


For a complete discussion and access to the tools that can facilitate forward booking in the practice, refer to Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION (pages 61-70).


As with all of the modules outlined in the guide, each chapter offers a comprehensive implementation strategy. Readers are encouraged to review the strategy and incorporate the steps that make sense to their practices.

Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRCTICE CHAMPION is available to VHMA members for $49. To order go to


Next Up…social media!

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CHAMPIONS...3...2...1 Liftoff!

Posted By Christine Shupe, Monday, December 28, 2015

Engaging the Team

You’ve approached the practice owner and discussed Preventive Pet Healthcare. You’ve even signed an agreement with the owner that outlines a commitment to the project and the responsibilities of each party. It’s time to get ready for the project launch and familiarize the practice team with the Champions project.

You want team’s support, but the team should be fully aware of the benefits of the Champions project. Therefore, when introducing the project at the team meeting, focus on being prepped, polished and persuasive.

The team should know that the owner is a Champion supporter. Invite the owner to attend and make a brief statement as a show of support. When issuing the invitation to the owner, be clear about your expectations. Page 22 of the workbook contains a helpful email template that can be used to gently remind the owner of the commitment to the project and next steps. Included are suggested talking points that can be passed along to the owner.

The owner’s presence is critical, but it is the Champion who will direct the meeting. On Page 23, Champions can find recommendations for making the initial meeting a success. Champion may decide to show a video about preventive pet healthcare, discuss the benefits of preventive care and/or reinforce the importance of team’s investment in the project. These are a few of the many recommendations offered. A list of potential team questions on page 24 provides Champions with an opportunity to practice and become comfortable responding to comments from staff.

At the team meeting, Champions should also distribute a team survey to gauge how team members perceive preventive pet healthcare in the practice. Champion can either use or adapt the team survey that is found on page 26. Include clear instructions about when and where to return the survey.

And, as any Miss Manners follower knows, follow-up with meeting participants and thank them for their participation. Be sure to outline the issues that were addressed and remind the team to complete the survey. For suggested email content, go to page 25.

Once the surveys have been returned, tabulate the responses using the form on page 30. Review the results and identify trends and issues. Armed with this information, it is time to schedule the second meeting with the practice owner. Make the most of this meeting by following the discussion format for reviewing the results on pages 34 and 35.

For a complete discussion and access to the tools that can move the process along, refer to Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION (pages 21-36).

Now the real work begins!

Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRCTICE CHAMPION is available free to first 1,000 VHMA members who order by December 31, 2015. To order go to

Next Month…implementing the plan!

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CHAMPIONS…Keep the Momentum Going!

Posted By Christine Shupe, Monday, November 30, 2015

If you’ve embarked on the journey to become a Preventive Healthcare Champion for your practice, and the practice owner has been receptive to the concept, kudos to you for effectively outlining the positive impact the Champion's project will have on the practice, clients, patients and staff. Bask in a job well done, but prepare yourself for the next step…getting the commitment in writing!

The formal agreement may seem like a tedious next step, however, it is essential to the success of the project. The agreement will provide the framework for future activity and reinforce the practice manager’s and practice owner’s buy-in to preventive pet healthcare and clearly delineate responsibilities.

Page 18 of Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION contains a sample agreement, which can be used as-is or as a starting point for drafting an agreement that better reflect the needs of the practice. A signed agreement will eliminate confusion and set a clear path for the future. Without it, the project can become just another good idea that goes nowhere.

Getting to Work on the Agreement

A basic agreement should express each stakeholder’s signed commitment to preventive pet healthcare and an acknowledgement of the role each will play to ensure the success of the project. More details can be added and the document can be expanded to address issues and responsibilities that signatories deem essential.

Before preparing the agreement, review the workbook sample. Once a draft document is created, solicit the practice owner’s feedback. When both parties agree on the document’s content, the agreement is ready to be signed.

Once the document is singed, the practice manager is one step closer to championing Preventive Pet Healthcare! Congratulations!

Order Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION  - it is free to the first 1,000 VHMA members who order by December 31, 2015.

Next month…Engaging the Team!

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Preparing to Bring a New Approach to Your Practice!

Posted By Christine Shupe, Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Veterinary professionals are seeing troublesome trends in the industry: practices are seeing more overweight patients, pet visits are declining and clients lack a basic understanding of the importance of preventive care. A growing number of practice managers support the belief that to reverse these trends the practice culture must be changed to focus on preventive care to ensure improved client compliance and better pet healthcare. Managers who are interested in advocating for a preventive pet healthcare approach in their practices can access tools and information to guide them through the process. The practice owner's support and approval of the approach is an important first step.


One tool managers can use to guide them through the process of implementing a preventive pet healthcare project is the recently published, Preventive Pet Healthcare: Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION. Over the next few months, Practice Pulse will highlight strategies from the guide. For the first installment, the focus in on the first step in the process: gaining owner approval.


Introducing the Project


Owner approval is closely tied to owner education. Managers who provide good information about the what and why of preventive healthcare can increase the likelihood that the owner hears and understands what the manager is proposing. According to the CHAMPION's Guide, prior to any discussion managers should be sure to:

  1. Schedule the appointment for a specific time and in a location that is free from distractions. This is not the type of project that should be presented on the fly between meetings and appointments.
  2. Replace the manager's cap with the owner's cap and think like a boss. The manager's job is to sell the project and gain the support of the owner. For a presentation to resonate with the owner, it should address his/her point of view and concerns.

For pointers on how to prepare an email to request a meeting with the owner, the CHAMPION’s Guide's sample email outlines the major points that should be included, such as: a brief list of the advantages of implementing the project, the time commitment involved and reference to the manager's enthusiasm about the project.


When the owner agrees to the initial meeting, the next step involves preparing for the face-to-face appointment, which should cover the project's purpose, benefits and process, clearly and effectively. The CHAMPION’s Guide suggests talking points that managers can incorporate into the presentation. The talking points are organized under eight key topics, which include:

  • What you are proposing to do
  • How you plan to accomplish it
  • What’s in it for the practice
  • What’s in it for the Practice Champion
  • What’s in it for the Team
  • What’s in it for the Client
  • What’s in it for the Patient
  • What is the time commitment

Managers can make a strong presentation by reviewing the pointers listed under each topic, becoming familiar with the content and rehearsing to ensure a confident and comfortable delivery. The presentation should focus on transmitting information, as well as delivering an energetic performance. Enthusiasm is contagious and the level of enthusiasm may influence the owner’s perception of the project.


A quantitative list of stakeholder benefits is available in the CHAMPION’s Guide. These are powerful inducements that can impact on how the proposal is received by the owner.


Taking the first step into the unknown can be daunting, but the CHAMPION’s Guide provides the insights and strategies to move forward with confidence.


It’s All about Change


Implementing a preventive healthcare protocol involves change: changing attitudes, changing perceptions and changing business practices. Change is best introduced through a series of manageable actions and the CHAMPION’s Guide provides guidance to managers embarking on the process by outlining steps and offering usable tools. Mangers who adopt some or all of the comprehensive approach detailed in the stand a better chance of getting buy-in and support for their proposal.


Your guide to becoming a PRACTICE CHAMPION is an important tool for ushering in change in your practice.


Ready…set…get started!


To order the workbook, it is free to the first 1,000 VHMA members who order in 2015.


Next Month…Get it in Writing!


Tags:  client compliance  pet healthcare  preventative care 

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