Interest in integrative medicine is rising every year in both the human and veterinary fields. Adding integrative treatment options to your practice helps your bottom line, and can boost your success rate with even the most difficult cases.
But how do you get clients, colleagues and staff to go from “not interested” to “yes, I want to try that”? Introducing others to these new treatments requires a combination of education, marketing and finesse. The client ultimately decides what is best for his/her animal, but there are several techniques for introducing new options that won’t intimidate or turn people away from potentially beneficial therapies.
You know the feeling: you get home from a conference and want to tell the world all the new things you learned. Don’t fight this feeling. You’ve spent the time and effort to learn a new treatment method, so now it’s time to teach others around you. Educating your colleagues and staff members is an important first step to incorporating new techniques into your practice.
Colleagues can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to adding new services. If a fellow veterinarian takes a dim view of a new treatment, or simply does not understand it, s/he is less likely to recommend it to a client. Take the time to help colleagues understand when and how these treatments can be applied, even if they have no interest in performing them. Put aside an hour during a quiet time of the day to discuss indications and contraindications. Even a harsh skeptic will have greater respect if your presentation is even-handed and includes potential side effects, such as interactions with conventional treatments. If you feel you are not the best teacher, encourage colleagues and staff members to attend introduction lectures for integrative medicine.
Staff members also need education about new treatment options, though your presentation to them should include practical considerations such as cost and how much time is needed to schedule sessions. It is especially important for your staff to have a positive attitude toward any new treatment, since they are the first people to talk to clients. One way to make a staff member an ambassador for a new therapy is to use it to successfully treat his/her own animal. Once clients hear the miraculous story of how you saved the receptionist’s pet, they will happily consider the new treatment for their own animals. When your staff has good experiences with their own pets, it can result in positive and free advertising for you and your new services.
Marketing can be a dirty word, especially if done incorrectly and unethically. However, there are many ways to get the word out without compromising your integrity. Start by making sure every client who comes in the door knows about your new services. Flyers, signs and brochures will alert clients and educate them about the uses and benefits of these new services. A mass mailing of flyers or postcards to existing clients is another option. Do not forget to include messages printed on the bottom of invoices. The greater number of times the client sees the message, the more likely it will make a lasting impression and spark interest.
Reaching people who are already clients is easy, but how do you reach non-clients? It must be done carefully, especially if you want referrals from colleagues who currently do not offer these services. A letter to local hospitals introducing yourself and the new service is one way to break the ice. Follow up with a phone call and offer a face-to-face meeting to answer questions. Reaching out to holistic practitioners in human medicine might also be helpful. Human practitioners frequently have patients who ask for similar services for their pets and would be willing to refer these patients.
If the direct approach is not your style, write a column for a local paper. Make sure to keep the article generally about integrative medicine. You do not want to be seen as trying to advertise your services in this particular forum. Consider guest lecturing for local groups, such as 4H or other animal-related associations. If your local veterinary medical association publishes a newsletter, write a case report in which you treated a patient using integrative techniques.
Any of these options will help you make people aware of the existence of integrative treatment options for their pets.
The final hurdle
The final step is the most important — convincing the client. Hopefully, your educational flyers and brochures get the ball rolling. The next step is a positive attitude and additional information from your staff. By the time you enter the exam room, the client is hopefully brimming with interest and questions. Now it’s time for you to shine.
First, do a thorough examination using conventional as well as any new techniques; for example, an evaluation of the tongue and pulse as done in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Every exam should be viewed as an opportunity to use an integrative approach, even if the client decides not to pursue integrative treatments.
After the examination, discuss your findings and the diagnostics you feel are necessary. Once you feel comfortable with a diagnosis, offer what you believe are the best options for treatment, including any and all integrative approaches. Never be afraid to offer — let the client be the one to decide. Make sure to explain each option fully, but do not overwhelm the client with jargon. Just as you would not use complicated medical terms, do not expect a client to understand the finer points of integrative or holistic medical philosophy.
Preventive care visits are a great opportunity to offer integrative options. Puppy and kitten visits can be used to educate clients about ways to keep their pets healthy that may not be considered mainstream. Take the time to discuss dental hygiene, nutrition and supplements, such as probiotics. Visits with healthy adult pets can include discussions about exercise and weight control. An owner who complains their pet is stiff after a long play session can be shown massage techniques and offered joint supplements rather than immediately given a pharmaceutical.
Remember…it’s the client’s choice
While it’s exciting to be able to offer your clients a wide array of treatment options, it is ultimately their decision which ones they choose. You might think a certain herb will cure a particular cat, but if the owner is unable to get the concoction in the uncooperative feline’s mouth, it will do no good. It might even cause harm if the owner or cat sustains injury during the treatment process!
Helping your clients make correct treatment choices, however, is something you definitely can influence. Using the right combination of education, marketing and good communication in the exam room, you can open your clients’ eyes to a whole new world of treatment options for pets.
Dr. Erin Mayo graduated from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. She received her veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbal certification from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, and runs a house-call based business providing holistic and TCVM services for companion animals in central New Jersey.