Physicians and dentists have embraced texting as a strategy to improve patient care. A study of 3,000 chronically ill patients found that 68 percent took medications at home as directed by their physicians when they received text reminders, compared to 50 percent without texts.1
Besides improving medication compliance, texting your veterinary clients could bring business efficiencies, from confirming appointments to alerting pet owners when their pets have recovered from surgery.
Texts are cheap to send and can be automated reminders or carry personalized messages. Texts show that your veterinary practice is high tech and high touch. A text could comfort a client who can’t answer the phone during a work meeting but can glance at a text and see a photo of their hospitalized pet.
Texting services are available from practice-management software companies and third-party vendors who serve small businesses and health care industries. Here are some providers with veterinary programs:
- AVImark Rapport Client Communications
- Idexx Pet Health Network Pro
- Demand Force
Here are 13 ways to use texting in your veterinary practice:
1. Send Dosing Reminders
Only 55 percent of dogs get monthly heartworm preventives, with 5.4 doses dispensed per dog each year, according to a 2009 compliance study.2 Set automated dosing reminders for the day of the month that clients need to give their pets flea, tick and heartworm preventives. Also use dosing reminders for chronic medications.
2. Remind About Drug and Food Refills
Too often, clients need “emergency refills” and call five minutes before closing time. Early intervention using text reminders could stop the habit.
Let’s say a client buys 30 tablets for her pet’s chronic health condition. When your technician fills the prescription, set a refill reminder for one week before the medication will run out. Likewise, when a client buys a bag or case of pet food, calculate when the food will be gone and set a refill reminder for one week in advance. This strategy is especially important for special-order medications and diets.
Pet food companies offer feeding guides that help calculate the period a bag or case will last. Another solution is to look at the client’s purchase history. If she buys a bag of cat food every six weeks, set the reminder for five weeks each time she repurchases.
3. Make it Easier to Respond
Repetition of a message gets results, so send postal, email and text reminders for exams, vaccines and diagnostics. Include your hospital phone number so clients can simply touch it on their smart-phones and immediately schedule an appointment.
4. Confirm Appointments and Surgeries
Send texts four days before scheduled appointments and procedures. If clients don’t reply to confirm, call them as a courtesy two days in advance. At Creekside Pet Care Center in Keller, Texas, the client-service team used to make 80 appointment confirmation calls a day. With AVImark’s Rapport two-way email and text reminders, the number was reduced by up to 80 percent.
For exam-reminder texts, include the appointment time, date and special instructions, such as “Bring a stool sample and any medications and supplements you’re giving your pet.” For surgical and dental confirmations, include a link to your web page, where owners can view fasting instructions.
After texting to confirm procedures, follow up with emails that include surgical paperwork.
This allows clients to read consent forms, treatment plans and fasting instructions in advance and can reduce the time needed during check-in. In your text message, alert the client to check his email for surgical consent forms.
5. Share Patient Updates
Have surgical technicians update clients once patients have recovered from procedures. Include a photo of the technician cradling the patient along with discharge instructions. A text might say, “Max is awake and resting. Dental treatment went well. Discharge appointment at 4 p.m. Call Kathy with questions at 555-555-5555.”
Text messages should explain the patient’s status, confirm the discharge appointment time and include the technician’s name, which is a personalized touch and communicates who cared for the patient. If clients have questions before discharge appointments, they know which technician to ask for when calling. This lets the receptionist quickly connect the call.
Add this statement to your anesthesia consent form so clients may check their preferred communication method:
How would you like to hear from us when your pet wakes from the procedure?
Use common sense, and always call the client if a complication occurs. Expect at least half of your clients to choose text notification. Never use a practice cell phone to text because you can’t print texts to document them in medical records. Another danger: Clients may expect you to answer the practice’s cell phone 24/7. Watch my YouTube video, “Text Clients When Dental and Surgical Patients Wake" below.s.
6. Issue Special Invitations
Just as you promote events on social media, the practice website and email blasts, don’t overlook texts. Send a text with a link to invitation details for pet photos with Santa, an open house for a new associate veterinarian, a Halloween pet costume contest or a National Pet Week celebration.
7. Introduce New Products and Specials
Let clients know about Pet Dental Health Month promotions, a new preventive or when it’s time to make holiday boarding reservations.
8. Notify When You Will Be Closed
When a hurricane or blizzard threatens, let clients know when your hospital will be closed due to unusual circumstances. Include the name, address and phone number of the emergency clinic where you refer patients.
9. Provide Health Alerts
From a rabies outbreak in your area to a pet food recall, let clients know instantly about breaking news that could affect their pets’ health.
10. Share Boarding and Grooming Photos
When your groomer completes services, snap a photo of the pet and text it to the client along with pickup instructions. While clients are on vacation, text photos of their pets taking walks or playing. Avoid photographing pets behind cage doors, which sends the impression they’re in “animal jail” and adds to the owners’ absentee guilt.
11. Promote Referrals
In addition to in-clinic signs and a message about your referral thank-you program on the back of business cards, send texts twice a year to active clients. Include an incentive such as “We appreciate your loyalty to <Your Veterinary Hospital>. When you refer a new client, you get a $20 gift certificate with us and your friend saves $20 on his first visit.”
12. Feature New Equipment and Services
From cold laser therapy to acupuncture, let clients know when you introduce a service or product that could benefit their pets. Include a link to your website, YouTube or social media for more information.
13. Tell Them You’re on the Way
If you operate a mobile practice or offer at-home euthanasia or farm calls, let clients know when the doctor is in transit. Then the client is prepared for your arrival, from opening the farm gate to having six cats herded for their checkups.
Marketing gurus advise limiting texts to two to four messages a month. Remember that you need permission from clients to send text messages. Without consent, you risk incurring legal fines, damaging your brand and even losing clients. Provide an option for clients to opt out of future texts such as “Txt STOP to cancel.”
Also, send texts during business hours in case clients call to schedule appointments after receiving a reminder by text or if they have questions about the products and services promoted.
- Kaiser Health News. “More Clinical Evidence That Text Messaging Can Help With Medication Adherence.” MedCityNews, Feb. 2, 2016. Accessed Oct. 25, 2016, at http://bit.ly/2eSbWkq.
- “Compliance: Taking Quality Care to the Next Level.” AAHA. 2009. p. 11.
Wendy S. Myers owns Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colo. She is a certified veterinary journalist and the author of “101 Communication Skills for Veterinary Teams.” You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.csvets.com.
Originally published in the December 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!