Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives
The American Veterinary Medical Association developed and has available all the documents and aides needed for active pet selection assistance by veterinary practices, including very well done color brochures. The Delta Society has developed the protocols for pets by prescription within the community and school environment. Either of these programs develops new pet owners, clients who are already bonded to the practice since they selected their pet with the expert assistance of the veterinary professionals of that facility.
Behavior management is another potential practice area, and the Gentle Leader head collar, by Premier, Inc., has allowed behavior changes to be facilitated in minutes rather than weeks, as previously encountered in "obedience training" sessions. Recently, they introduced a harness, preferred by some clients, and usually effective after the head collar training has established the alpha-relationship.
Behavior management has also emerged in Japan, with Ms. Terry Ryan conducting multiple programs every year. Susanne Hetts, Dan Estep and more recently Gary Lansberg has taken the program on the road to Australia. Regardless of the country, the State, or the city, most animals lose their home, and often their lives, because of behavior problems. The practice which helps prevent this "disposable pet" syndrome not only keeps clients, but gains recognition in the community. Recognition for helping animals is a marketing benefit to the practice, without having to advertise or market routine services or products. There are web sites, e.g., www.animalbehaviorassociates.com, which provide a great practice staff resource for enhancement of skills and knowledge, for the 80 percent of the issues that can be handled by a general practice.
Resources are available at almost no cost to the veterinary healthcare facility. There are multiple human/companion animal bond (H/CAB) programs available from non-profit organizations. The international clearing house for interdisciplinary H/CAB groups and programs is the Delta Society (206/226-7357). The American Veterinary Medical Association (708/925-8070) has pet placement information. The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) is a recent HCAB player providing Internet access to resources www.animalbehavior.org. Use of these groups has to be controlled and monitored to ensure they meet proper healthcare philosophy of the practice. Any good program will include at least these six basic techniques with documented implementation planning:
1. Screening of staff and patients for bias or acceptance toward H/CAB programs.
2. Screening and quarantine procedures for any animal used in the program.
3. Volunteer training and indoctrination program before their participation.
4. Health records and preventative medicine parameters for participating animals.
5. Continuing education and in-service training at recurring intervals for facility staff due to employment turnover.
6. Evaluation of program benefits and problems for patients and staff.
As an evaluation process, the astute healthcare administrator challenges the animal facilitated therapy programs with an open mind, but a jaundiced eye toward longevity. The people who facilitate the program must be ready to participate for the long term and should have non-profit backing to allow the program to develop. Once the H/CAB program has proven to be effective, it should become a budget line item of the facility to ensure continuity and control.
H-CAB Benefit Inventory
The progressive veterinary practice understands that client bonding is the secret to success in an overcrowded veterinary community, and marketing of their patient advocacy philosophy feeds this image. The active participation in human-animal bond programs is usually good for free press, often to include television and radio.
A secondary benefit that results is the sensitivity of the practice staff to the emotions involved in the human/companion animal bond, which in turn softens the harshness seen in some client relations. It is also a great ego boost for support staff members when they get accolades and the "warm fuzzies" associated with an outreach program involving animals. It is the best recognition program available for many veterinary practice staff members.
The windfall benefits take many forms, sometimes including a great increase in the white collar clients (doctors, teachers, healthcare professionals) who have come into contact with the human/companion animal programs that your staff supports. The client who has a full realization of the human/companion animal importance will be more likely to do what is needed for proper healthcare maintenance of the family animal(s). They take their stewardship seriously.
The only thing between being a special practice and an average practice is the desire to do little extra to be perceived as unique in your community. The choice is yours. Capitalize on the original covenant as the provider of animal welfare and wellness. Care enough to become committed. Dare to become more than average.