A few weeks ago, an update was published to the 2011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study. The original study shed much-needed light on aspects of our profession that were no longer bathing in the sun of success -- in particular, preventative care for pets. As a result, new initiatives and programs launched from the national level to private practices. These efforts were geared toward educating seasoned veterinarians, staff, students and even the public on the importance of preventative medicine, and many of you would report
hearing more about this topic.
Unfortunately, our big hammer efforts have only made a tiny dent in the needs of our profession. The 2014 update to this study, published under the title of "Reversing the Decline," showed only small steps of progress to the original problems, and identified new challenges as well. You can read the full report here.
The findings I found most significant:
And drumroll, please:
Pet owners are 23% more likely than they were even just three years ago to turn to Dr. Google before us? Holy smokes, folks. Technology and information accessibility are always growing, but that's a huge leap. Statistically speaking, there could be many arguments regarding this fact but the bottom line is that we have a problem. A big problem.
One of the study's conclusions was that "To encourage regular healthcare visits, practice teams need to not only overcome the practical barriers that pet owners have identified but also look for opportunities to make themselves an essential and relevant alternative to “Dr. Google.”
So you knew we were going to talk about social media here, right? If you weren't convinced before, this should be the icing on your Facebook page cake. We have to present pet information online. We have to. Clearly, our clients are looking for it. Is it ideal? No, of course not. Would we rather do it face-to-face, one-on-one and in an exam room with each individual owner and pet? Absolutely. But the facts remain: our client base is a largely information-seeking, tech-savvy, Google-surfing group that wants to find ways to help their pet. As millenials continue to grow up and become pet owners, this will only become more important. So let's do that. Let's help their pet. Let's help them understand how WE help their pet. Not Google. Not an "all natural" paleo dog food pusher. Not a "behavioral" trainer with a TV show. Not a celebrity with a vaccine agenda. As veterinarians, our job is to help animals and the people who care for them, in whatever manner they seek it.
Social media platforms, Facebook in particular, are some of the most visited websites in the world each day. Sharing information, content and ideas is quick, simple and efficient. Using a picture or an infographic that can be seen in a split second can have the impact to convey a message you've been telling the owner in the exam room for years. I believe practices using social media can utilize it to:
Some visual examples:
Educate your owners on pet health care topics. Heartworm disease, parasite prevalence maps, tips for getting their pets to the clinic more easily, microchipping statistics, and images of dental disease are all quick, visual facts that can help owners learn. More importantly, they will now know where to turn for more information. There are dozens of trusted veterinary resources that regularly post shareable content for pet owners, and you can also create your own custom content to post.
Increase Compliance by reminding owners each month about heartworm and flea prevention. Utilize the fun and ever-popular weird animal health holidays to increase owner acceptance and understanding of various pet conditions, like dental health or diabetes. Finally, celebrate the success of your patients and their owners when compliance pays off -- this is particularly powerful with visual comparisons of before and after weight loss/nutritional management photos.
Emphasize Value of the services you provide. Promote yourself, your clinic, and your core principles and values to remind owners that they don't just walk out of your appointments with a rabies tag and a receipt. You provide invaluable information and personalized attention to them as owners, as well as customized care for their individual pet -- specific to their breed, environment and lifestyle. Google is good, but not that good.
Build loyalty with your patients by celebrating them! Posting pictures of your patients,with owner permission of course, is huge. Interact with your community as a whole by sharing their events and commenting on their postings. Finally, showing off your staff and their personality by injecting a few select facts, pictures, outside interests,etc., can help to humanize and differentiate your practice. Personal interaction is the key to loyalty.
There will always be challenges and new obstacles to overcome for our profession, just like any industry. Few industries, however, have the opportunity to utilize a personal and emotionally driven interaction -- caring for pets -- as a way to help not only the business but more importantly, the consumer and above all, pets! Imagine an accountant sharing helpful tax tips, IRS news or a picture of their favorite new calculator. Boring! Veterinarians have a wealth of legitimately important, interesting and adorable content that is begging to be posted right in our offices. Take advantage of this opportunity and your efforts will undoubtedly be rewarded.