Heartworm prevention is normally assessed in veterinary practices in a very similar way to vaccinations Often the critical time to advise the pet owner on heartworm preventatives is at the same time as vaccinations.
Of course one of the key elements to how much heartworm prevention a practice promotes is whether or not the practice is in an area where the disease occurs, so this article is only relevant for practices operating where heartworm occurs.
The other slight variation to vaccinations is that whist vaccinations are primarily driven by the effectiveness of reminder systems, heartworm prevention is equally driven by reminder systems AND the way clinicians detail it in a consultation. So it is possible to have a practice with high pet owner compliance to vaccinations but low compliance to heartworm prevention because the clinicians do not promote the preventative.
One of the questions that is often asked is: “We are theoretically in a heartworm area but the condition has not been diagnosed for a long time. Should we still be promoting heartworm prevention?”.
The answer to this is that the practice needs to decide on a policy and stick to it so that all clinicians say the same thing. There is nothing worse that a pet owner speaking to 2 different clinicians at the same practice and getting conflicting advice – this means the pet owner loses trust in the business. Understandably as vets we do not like to be prescribed the medications and treatments that we use in sick patients, however there needs to be some compromise when it comes to advice for preventatives. It is better for everyone working at the practice (vets, nurses and receptionists) to say the same thing to pet owners. This would also include questions regarding when to blood test prior to offering preventatives.
If you are going to promote heartworm prevention, then is it better to promote an annual injectable or an oral or topical preventative? Again, this is a matter of practice policy that can be revised every few years as new preventatives are released. There is however a significant advantage in promoting an injectable medication for these reasons:
- You do not have to consider owner compliance (pet owner does not have to remember to administer the preventative)
- The pet is assured of a regular health check which can be performed at the same time as the injection. There is a very strong argument in favour of the benefits of an annual health check for pets. Non-injectable preventatives are likely to become more available from non-veterinary sources and this means that it is less likely that patients come in for annual health checks
So whether you are a clinician working at a practice or a practice manager and you are in a heartworm area think about this:
Does my practice have a policy on heartworm prevention? Do all the clinicians say the same thing and offer consistent advice about this to pet owners?
And if the answer to these 2 questions is ‘no’ then it is time to have a team meeting involving the entire team and agree on what CONSISTENT advice will be offered to pet owners – because it is this consistent advice (or avoidance of confusion) that will give the best outcome to the patient.
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