Parasite Protection: Compelling Clients to Comply

This article was the fourth installment of a 10-part series and written by:

Mike Paul,DVM, MAGPI Consulting, Anguilla, British West Indies, past president of AAHA

Michael Thomas, DVM, Noah's Animal Hospitals, Indianapolis, IN, past president of AAHA

“My protocols for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of parasites are working just fine.”

Isn’t that what most of us believe? It’s certainly what we both thought until we spent a few days with some of the nation’s top veterinary parasitologists.

For many of us in practice, the adoption and implementation of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) guidelines for parasite prevention and control will require fundamental changes in long-accepted protocols.

What do the new guidelines mean for veterinary practices?

Highlights of the CAPC guidelines include:

  • Client education about the zoonotic potential of parasites
  • More frequent fecal flotation tests
  • Year-round, broad-spectrum parasite preventives

Implementing changes in our recommendations—especially those requiring significant changes—will necessitate several steps:

  1. We must develop a uniform recommendation in each practice. While the CAPC guidelines are designed and intended for universal adoption, they provide for flexibility in their implementation. Each practice can customize its own protocols, using the products that best fit the needs of its patients.
  2. We must inform and educate staff members and obtain their buy-in. In most cases, staff members are diligent followers of the hospital’s protocols, so it is vital to educate the hospital team about how these changes benefit both patients and families. Client compliance is our greatest nemesis, but it can be greatly enhanced when the practice’s standard of care is reflected in the beliefs and behavior of everyone in the hospital.

  3. We must initiate a complete educational program for our community and our clients. One of the commitments of CAPC is to create a dialogue with human health care providers, emphasizing our mutual awareness and concern about zoonotic parasites. As that unfolds, veterinary practitioners can expect to play a greater role in providing related information on zoonotic parasites and how parasite control can help protect families and communities from infestations and diseases.

A major change in some practices will be the primary CAPC recommendation that broad-spectrum heartworm preventives be administered on a year-round basis. It’s important to stress that trying to predict vector exposure simply has not worked. As a result of this inadequate preventive administration, hundreds of thousands of dogs are infected each year with a totally preventable—but life-threatening—disease.

There is no substitute for taking the time to fully discuss parasite protection with each client. In many cases, the discussion will take place with a technician or a member of the client services staff. In some cases, it will involve the use of educational videos or pamphlets. In other cases, a longer discussion with the veterinarian may be required.

How will you follow up?

We know from surveys conducted by industry and from the 2003 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) compliance study that while clients may hear our recommendations, they do not always comply. The reported levels of compliance—even with measures as widely publicized as heartworm prevention—are below 50 percent. How can we improve that statistic?

We can educate, we can recommend and we can dispense, but compliance does not end there. Each practice should develop a method of tracking and emphasizing compliance. We believe that the CAPC guidelines are the best recommendations available today for parasite prevention and control. We must impress on our clients the need for compliance and we must follow up with them.

One source for client compliance survey tools is the American Animal Hospital Association. AAHA strongly supports the use of protocols and guidelines to standardize quality care and to improve compliance. AAHA has endorsed the CAPC guidelines and recommends implementation in all practices.

The goal of CAPC and the goal of all veterinarians is to prevent disease, suffering and death in our patients, and to educate pet owners and the public about the control and prevention of zoonotic parasites. The final result will be to support and strengthen the bond and relationship between people and their pets.

Isn’t that what we all want?