Top 5 Tips For Introducing A Veterinary Wellness Program At your Hospital

wellness photo

Written By: Dr. Jennifer Fletcher, Animal Hospital of Dauphin County

As veterinarians, we have two main goals: keeping pets healthy and their owners happy.  We examine animals and administer vaccines to protect them from infectious disease, but all too often we find ourselves treating dogs and cats for chronic conditions that require lifelong medications and monitoring.  The move toward preventive medicine is becoming more imperative as the cost and standard of care rises.  The cornerstone of moving your practice towards preventive medicine is a wellness program.   By creating a comprehensive plan and thorough training of our staff to embrace “wellness,” we now have a foothold in moving our practice towards preventive medicine.  We implemented our program two years ago at the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County and have seen many benefits of transforming the way we approach wellness in our patients.

Establishing a comprehensive plan

The first step in establishing our wellness program was determining the components of the program.  Every practice may take a different approach but we elected to streamline the wellness exam, provide stage-specific blood panels at a discounted price, administer lifestyle specific vaccines, discuss current diet and recommend year-round flea/tick and heartworm prevention.  We tried to keep it as simple as possible for our clients so they would not feel overwhelmed or confused by the choices that we offer.  With time being a limiting factor in the exam room, becoming efficient with recommendations and discussion of wellness was one of our greatest challenges.

For the wellness exam, we utilized our electronic medical record to start our recommendations before the client even enters the hospital.   Our veterinarians will research the medical record of each wellness patient on the schedule that day and pre-load the patient list with the vaccines, blood testing and preventive products they recommend based on the patient’s lifestyle and medical history.  We also created Feline Wellness and Canine Wellness exam templates.  These templates include questions our technicians ask our clients in the exam room.  These questions cover current problems or concerns, diet (what brand of food and how much they are feeding), flea/tick/heartworm prevention if they currently use it, at home dental care, lifestyle of the pet (boarding, grooming, etc. for dogs and indoor only, indoor/outdoor, outdoor only for cats), and infectious disease testing (heartworm, tick-borne, FIV/FeLV).  Through training and discussions at staff meetings, the technicians transformed these questions into a dialogue with clients rather than peppering them with questions.  Finally the technician opens the computer invoice and discusses wellness bloodwork and other recommendations the veterinarian has made.

For wellness bloodwork, we created a set of blood panels that include a CBC, chemistry, and a fecal float but may also include thyroid testing and a urinalysis based on the age of the patient.  We are able to offer these panels at a discounted price to our clients through an agreement with our external laboratory.  We propose annual wellness bloodwork for all patients and infectious disease testing yearly in dogs and based on lifestyle of the cat.

Changing your message — vaccines to wellness

The next aspect we changed about the way we practiced was our message to our clients.   We no longer ask owners to set up their “vaccine appointments,” but instead, to have them schedule their “wellness exams.”   The word wellness definitely alerted a change in our clients.  The most commonly asked question was, “What do you mean by wellness?”  Through interactive staff meetings based on communication techniques, we trained our staff to use this opportunity to explain that we want to not only administer vaccines but also ensure their pets’ overall health status by discussing weight, diet, parasite preventives and any other concerns the client may have.  About one year after instituting our program, our clients now call to set up their wellness exams.  By changing one word, we also changed how our clients saw the value of their annual or semi-annual appointment.

Staff participation

First and foremost, everyone on the staff must be on board with the program and believe in the value of wellness and preventive care.  The best way for staff to feel a part of the program is to be participants themselves.   We encouraged our staff members to have wellness bloodwork performed on their own cats and dogs.   We embraced the “practice what you preach” mentality.

We also used the opportunity of our staff pets’ bloodwork to educate receptionists and technicians about what the values mean.  The more your staff knows about their own pets’ health, the more they can convey this to the client.  Our clients especially take what we do for our own pets into consideration when making decisions for their animals.  There is no stronger recommendation than one you would make for your own dog or cat.

Introducing the wellness program to the clients

For the most part, our hospital had always been recommending preventives and lifestyle-based vaccinations.  With the introduction of the wellness program, we made it more visible to the client with visual aids and a consistent message.  Our emphasis on wellness to our client starts with the receptionists scheduling and confirming the appointment; it is then reiterated in the exam room by the technicians and doctors and is again, reinforced by the receptionists and technicians with follow up calls. By doing this, the client feels the entire practice is on board with recommendations and is more likely to participate.

When our receptionists schedule and call to confirm the appointment, they remind the owner to bring a fecal sample (as all of our wellness bloodwork panels include a fecal float).  In the exam room, we have posters explaining wellness bloodwork and show what each panel includes, the cost of the panel and the discounted savings to the client.  It’s a great visual tool and shows the client the value they are receiving.  Finally we use our EMR system to our advantage to create callback reminders for vaccines (if starting a series and needing boosters) and dental recommendations.  The receptionists call owners reminding to set up their technician appointment for the booster vaccine or to ask them if they would like to set up the dental cleaning procedure that the doctor recommended at their exam.  The follow up calls have increased client compliance and show our clients are commitment to wellness in their pets.

Especially in the first year of our wellness program, our clients felt slightly overwhelmed or unprepared for the cost of the wellness bloodwork.  Because of this, we allow clients to set up appointments with our technicians within 3 months of the wellness exam to take advantage of the blodowork prices and to have infectious disease testing performed without another exam by a doctor.  Many clients enjoy this option as it allows to discuss it with family members at home or to spread out cost over two visits.

Showing clients the value — sharing stories of success

Our hospital has certainly seen the value of the wellness program along with our clients.  Not only have we established “baseline” bloodwork values for patients who appear healthy, we have also detected early or subclinical disease in a number of patients.  We have diagnosed early stage chronic renal failure where a diet change is the only treatment needed, instead of discovering it when the patient is severely azotemic and clinically ill.  Additionally, we have revealed hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus before patients have developed hypertension, heart murmurs, weight loss and ketosis.  By far one of the most rewarding examples of the success of wellness bloodwork was a case in which we diagnosed thyroid cancer in a dog whose only clinical sign was a three pound weight loss.  We relay these stories of success with all of our clients in the exam room.  We emphasize how animals can “hide” disease and that early detection is the key in the management of most chronic conditions.  By detecting disease early, we can increase a patient’s quality of life for longer and most likely for a lower cost to the client as well.

Overall, the wellness program at our hospital has been a win-win situation.  Our patients are receiving a higher standard of care and their owners are becoming an active participant in their pet’s health.  Many hospitals already recommend and perform many components of a wellness plan, but making it visible and valuable to the client is the key.  A straight-forward comprehensive plan will help move your practice towards success with preventive medicine.


10 Tips For Creating A Happy Workplace At Your Animal Hospital: Part 2

workplace zen

By Dennis McMichael, Practice Manager — Animal Hospital of Dauphin County

Previously, I took you through my first top 5 tips for a happy workplace. Here are my remaining top factors that I consider to be the most impactful in cracking open your workplace Zen (as a team). 

6. Set Goals (as a team): In professional sports a team’s shared goals are apparent and understood.  Moreover, the teams’ success towards those goals is blatantly, and sometimes brutally obvious (Go Phillies! Go Eagles!).  In the common workplace neither of these statements holds true; however, each member of the team plays just as much of a role in achieving the team’s shared goals.  As such the team’s involvement in understanding challenges, creating shared goals, monitoring progress, and managing their shared goals to success is paramount in fostering happiness and success.  Beyond that the involvement of fresh minds in the process will lead to new ideas and the discovery of untapped talents.

7. Create Happy Customers (as a team): The customer is always right because if the customer is wrong, your competition is happy to make it right!   Too often a disconnect occurs in considering customers as the primary resource for achieving success toward the team’s shared goals.  By assuming the role of a customer advocate, team members align and accomplish the customer’s goals, the team’s goals, and their individual goals while creating happy customers in the process.  And the happiest teams are teams working with happy customers!

8. Make It Personal (as a team): When was the last time you stopped a staff meeting and played a fun, interactive game? The gains realized are well worth the small amount of time sacrificed from the team’s everyday routine.  Team members connecting on a personal level greatly increases the probability of greater cohesiveness at the professional level.  Additionally, a little bit of camaraderie goes a long way in strengthening staff retention and creating more natural and enjoyable customer interactions.   At times, the most effective thing a team leader can do is create an opportunity for the team to interact freely without the constraints and distractions of the job obstructing the team’s ability to develop their relationships and identity.

9. Recognize Contributions (as a team): Teams and their individual members contribute their talents every day; however, only the largest accomplishments are consistently celebrated with any sort of fanfare.  “Great job making that copy, Mary!” and “You really nailed sweeping that floor, Joe!” are examples of praises very rarely uttered in the workplace.  But why not?  There is absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing another team member’s contributions to the overall success of the team’s shared goals.  In fact, offering such praise will play a crucial role in creating a happy team and an environment conducive to productive communication.

10. Love What You Do (as a team): On average we spend 45% of our waking hours at work or performing work-related functions.  That is way too much time to not derive some enjoyment from our jobs and our teams.  It is always a useful exercise for each team member to reflect on their position and identify the functions, responsibilities, and accomplishments that make them most content in their role.  Likewise, it is just as worthwhile to examine the less enjoyable tasks and look for ways to make them more enticing for the team member.  Even if the end result is the same, the exercise itself will help increase contentedness with the individual.  In the end, when we love what we do it shows.  And the effects are contagious to team members and customers alike!

A happy workplace requires an appropriate mix of all the ingredients to get it just right.  Similarly, different teams will have different mixes for what’s right for them; however, the ingredients will all still be there.  And the best part is that once your mix is established the workplace will become a lot of fun!


10 Tips for Creating a Happy Workplace At Your Animal Hospital: Part 1

happy workplace

By Dennis McMichael, Practice Manager — Animal Hospital of Dauphin County

Throughout my youth and professional career I’ve had the pleasure of serving on and leading many teams with a variety of purposes and goals.  In each instance a number of consistent factors contributed to each team’s success, failure, and, ultimately, happiness.  And in each instance the team’s happiness could be directly attributed to our performance and application of those factors as a team.  While it would be nearly impossible to list all of the factors contributing to a happy team and workplace, the following list captures the top factors that I consider to be the most consistently impactful in cracking open your workplace Zen (as a team).

1. Be Humble (as a team): We all have faults.  The sooner we are able to acknowledge and accept this fact, the sooner we move past reactive and guarded habits and progress towards becoming proactive producers.  Some of the best people to have on your team are the ones who ask a lot of questions and force the team to rethink what they thought they already knew.  Leaders are no exception to this trait — as a matter of fact, leaders stand to gain even more from their own humbleness by forging important relationships and better understanding the resources available to them.

2. Communicate (as a team): Every success and failure begins and ends with productive communication or a lack thereof.  It is as simple as that, yet, we continually fall into the traps created by lack of communication or even unproductive communication.  A successful and happy team’s habitual response to unexpected adversity is productive communication.  This often takes the form of a 5 minute “huddle” to discuss the issue at hand, identify resources and possible solutions, and plot the path to success.  As humans contentedness is equivalent to happiness.  Internalized stress is commonly one of the largest barriers to contentedness.  The habitual response of productive communication and group problem solving eliminates this barrier before it even has a chance to take shape.

3. Create a Culture of Solutions (as a team): How much of your team’s time is lost to idle complaints?  Beyond time, what is the impact of idle complaining on individual and team morale?  Many people complain simply because it requires less effort than solving the problem in the first place; however, this is where the power of the team really comes to life.  If the team publicly recognizes their distaste for idle complaining, the team can successfully outlaw the behavior from the workplace and replace it with an expectation of productive communication.  Much like Planet Fitness’ “Lunk Alarm” combats “gymtimidation”, a staff unified towards productive communication is empowered to recognize and refuse idle complaining in a more comfortable manner that encourages productive solutions and a happy workplace.

4. Celebrate Your Successes (as a team): The ever-increasing demand for efficiency is at odds with the need for workplace happiness.  How many times have you thought “That was really a great accomplishment and it needs to be recognized when time allows.”?  Did you do it?  Did you do it publicly?  Celebrating successes boosts morale while providing a positive reinforcement of the team’s shared goals.  Additionally, creating a ‘shout out’-friendly environment can do wonders in promoting individual and team senses of self-worth.  These gestures are a catalyst for kindness.  No, the team doesn’t need to spend the entire day patting each other on the back.  Staff meetings, internal newsletters, group emails, suggestion boxes, bulletin boards, etc. can all serve as appropriate forums to share the love!

5. Own Your Mistakes (as a team): So you made a mistake — now what?  Human nature and tradition seem to tell us to shy away and let someone else fix it but where’s the growth in that?  Recognize the opportunity and turn the situation on its head.  The team and/or team member stand to gain valuable knowledge and insight by assessing the situation and envisioning a reasonable solution.  Furthermore, what could have been a confidence-draining experience can — if handled properly — become a confidence-building morale booster.  Finally, is there a lesson learned that can be used to benefit team members not specifically involved with this opportunity?  Make sure that teachable moment is appropriately shared and utilized!

Check back for Part 2 and my remaining 5 tips for a happy workplace!


Have You Seen our New Video?

We’re excited about the new video we put together showing what it’s like to work with Community Veterinary Partners. We’re showcasing it right now on our home page, so check it out. (You can also see it at the bottom of this post.)

The video includes interviews with Dr. Bob Sarsfield, our partner-owner at the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County. There’s also commentary by our president, Daniel Eisenstadt, who talks about the kind of partners we’re looking for, and why it’s so important to have a succession plan in place.


Dr. Bob Takes on Alzheimer’s Again…

Last weekend, Dr. Bob Sarsfield, our business partner and the medical director of the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County, held his annual golf tournament to raise funds and awareness around Alzheimer’s Disease. It was the biggest turnout yet — 120 participants and 20 volunteers. This year Dr. Bob raised $39,000, which brings the 15-year total to more than $350,000.

Dr. Sarsfield and Marc Nathan at the Annual Sarsfield Golf Tournament

The event is held at Hershey Links, and it was a perfect day for a round of golf. Dr. Jim Kepner also participated, as he’s done for several years.

Dr. Bob started the event after the death of his father Robert Sarsfield, Sr. His entire family takes part in the planning. Proceeds benefit the Greater Pennsylvania chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Here’s the link to last year’s event.


Community Days at the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County

The staff at the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County pride themselves on the special bond they have with the community. They volunteer aggressively and work hard to support local groups that share our goals. One thing that makes it easier is a special benefit that gives every member of the staff one extra paid day off each year to volunteer for a charity of his or her choosing. Continue reading…


Dr. Bob’s New Patient

Our team at the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County has fans of the Hersey Bears for years. Several members of the staff are team junkies and have season tickets. Some  players bring their pets to us for care. Continue reading…


Good news from the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County

There’s been a bunch of good news coming out of the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County recently.

Two stories have a similar theme: one-eyed cats. First, there’s the black kitten named Melissa that came into our hospital with a severe head trauma — damaged right eye and a broken skull. Dr. Jim Kepner did amazing work here. Continue reading…


A Web Site for the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County

We made our first investment earlier this year in the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County, a five-doctor practice located in Harrisburg, Pa. Since then we’ve been working hard to optimize the business operations. We took over the back-office headaches from Dr. Jim Kepner — the bill paying, the payroll, the HR management and more — and have been looking for ways to improve the marketing of the hospital. Continue reading…


Meet us at PVMA

We’ve shied away from buying booths at veterinary conferences. Somehow it felt too formal, too corporate. We like to see ourselves as different than the other companies in this industry and taking a booth felt like what everyone else did. Continue reading…