Extreme makeover: Parasite edition for team members

Parasites can rot the foundation of clients' relationships with their pets. And talking about these creepy crawlies—again—can make for a drab workday. Remodel your ho-hum parasite prevention program to protect pets, their families, and your sanity.
May 01, 2009

The first one nips at your scruff. You shrug your shoulder to shake it off. The next one hits at your hip. You can't quite hitch your leg high enough to scratch, so you wriggle to shake the pesky itch. This little shimmy sets off a profusion of bites that raises the fur on your back. You whimper more and more as you scratch emphatically but uselessly.

If you've ever winced from a flea's bite or the discovery of a tick lodged in your skin, you've glimpsed the experiences of a parasite-infested pet. Of course, parasites are more than a discomfort and an annoyance. They're a threat to pets' health—and yours. But you know that. You talk about parasites all year, non-stop in the spring and summer. Suppress that here-we-go-again groan. It's time to transform your parasite prevention program from a fixer-upper into a high-end model.

What's it to ya?

You play an integral part in establishing the practice's parasite program. It's true, you're not the owner, but by taking ownership, you improve pets' health and your job satisfaction. "My advice to the team is to be activists," says Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, a practice management consultant in Springboro, Ohio. "Be proactive about talking to clients about parasite prevention and what their pets need."

One item you and your practice need: standards of care. These protocols outline how your practice prevents and treats parasite infections. They're also a valuable training tool that ensures the whole practice team presents clients with a clear, consistent message. While veterinarians are responsible for agreeing on the standards, you can be a leader by offering to put them in writing. By creating a black and white copy, you might just open doctors' eyes. "Many doctors think they have standards of care," Gavzer says, "but when they see them in writing, they learn they're doing things differently."

Talk it up

You may feel like a skipping CD every time you give your parasite spiel. But you must keep your energy up and make sure each client truly hears you. "What's incredibly simple to you is not so simple to the client who only hears about it once a year," Gavzer says. Put yourself in clients' shoes. They're juggling a pet—maybe a child, too—and trying to comprehend a lot of information in a 20-minute appointment. As a result, they're only going to remember 20 percent of what they hear—and they'll misremember some of that. Here are a few tips for getting through to clients.

  • Mix it up. Even though you may be following a script, it's important to keep your parasite communication fresh, Gavzer says. "There's always new information to incorporate," she says.

For instance, you could focus on zoonotic diseases. Explain that some parasites make their way from pets to people, and emphasize the risk of illness. A 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report shows about 14 percent of the U.S. population is infected with roundworms, says Dr. Mike Paul, executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC). "Fortunately, relatively few people develop disease," he says. "But when they do, it's potentially devastating. The question is, what's an acceptable level of risk when we're talking about your kids or grandkids?"