ORLANDO, FLA. - As the first big veterinary event of the year, the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) always features lots of news about advances in veterinary medicine. Veterinary professionals teach, learn, view new products and make announcements at several Orlando hotels. Nearly 16,000 veterinary professions attended this year's conference Jan. 14-18 -- one of the most well-attended medical meetings in America.
Among the announcements, the two most notable were rather introspective, regarding how veterinary professionals can improve how they provide care.
A new survey reveals that 88 percent of veterinary professionals agree there's a gap in communication with owners, particularly about the importance of preventive care. Such care is be critical, and can even be lifesaving. Too many pets are suffering from maladies which can and should be prevented.
Overall, veterinary visits have been declining for years. Increasingly, owners don't perceive a need to visit unless something is acutely wrong with a pet. Other factors range from the sagging economy to exorbitant fees (in some cases) and the difficulty of getting pets, especially cats, to a clinic.
"We're taking ownership of the problem," said Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, executive director of the American Animal Hospital Association. "We intend to provide veterinary professionals with tools, and enhance communication with the public to initiate change to better meet the needs of pets."
At the conference, Cavanaugh announced a program dubbed "The Opportunity," which will survey employees and clients at veterinary practices around America to pinpoint communication issues.
For example, veterinarians and others who see clients in the practice may be asked how often they caution owners about overweight pets during visits. Their answers might be very different from those of clients who bring in tubby tabbies or corpulent canines.
Twenty-three practices nationwide, and a sampling of their clients, participated in a test of the survey on communication in 2011. A larger sampling of 100 veterinary practices, large and small, will be offered an opportunity to test the same survey at the Conference of the American Animal Hospital Association in March.
"The hope is that the data from survey of the 100 practices, and more to follow, will offer crucial information to the veterinary profession," said Dr. Jeremy Kees, assistant professor of marketing and the Richard Naclario Emerging Scholar in Public Policy at Villanova University.
Interestingly, 72 percent of veterinarians agree they should spend more time talking to pet owners about preventive care. The key issue may be how to better present the concept to clients. The survey may offer clues on a wide array of topics, including why cats aren't seeing veterinarians as often as dogs.
On average, cats visit a veterinarian less than half as often as dogs. However, cats are the most popular pets in America, so seemingly millions of owners do love their kitties. So what's going on?
At another press conference, Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners said, "We have been doing our best for cats, but we can do better." She announced the launch of a promotion called Cat Friendly Practices, patterned after a similar program in the United Kingdom designed to more efficiently match veterinary practices with feline needs, as well as what cat owners want.
Dr. Andy Sparkes (cq), co-founder of Cat Friendly Clinics in the U.K., noted, "In 2006, we began this massive scheme and it's made a difference. With cats, veterinarians have one chance to get it right. If the experience is very stressful to the cat and the owner, they may not be coming back anytime soon."
The idea is for practices to join the American Association of Feline Practitioners (if they are not already a member), and then implement criteria to enhance "cat friendliness." There will be two standards, Gold and Silver. Cat Friendly practices will tout their status with a decal on their door and on their website, so clients are aware of the efforts made for cats.
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