The secrets of compliance – or how to get pet owners to follow your advice!

01 February 2014, at 12:00am

Lee Danks of Royal Canin believes that high levels of compliance can turn a good practice into a very successful business and explains the need for effective communication at all stages

COMPLIANCE may not sound like the most exciting word in the English language, but what does it actually mean?

It can be defined as “a client’s adherence to a recommended treatment plan”. Optimum levels can lead to a number of benefits: happier clients with fewer complaints and, most importantly, healthier patients. This is because clients become whole-heartedly committed to following through on recommendations and there tend to be greater levels of pet supervision as a result.

High levels of compliance can turn a good practice into a very successful business but in order to achieve this, practices need to ensure there is effective communication before, during and after treatment has been agreed upon.

Still sound a bit dry? That’s why we’ve been working hard to develop a series of training opportunities for vets (as well as nurses and practice managers) which bring some drama and excitement to the world of compliance, as it is undoubtedly an important area of focus.

Over the past 12 months I’ve been working with Geoff Little, a management consultant and past president of the SPVS, to develop CPD events which add a real interactive flavour to learning and help bring the subject of compliance to life.

Having been in practice for longer than he would like to admit, Geoff remembers when people spoke about the “art” of veterinary practice. Getting the client to do what you wanted them to and adhering to it was considered to be an art.

It was seen as something some people had a particular gift for and others didn’t, or did to a lesser extent. We now know it is a skill, something that can be learned. Geoff likes to consider it as a craft, which is a handy acronym for Compliance = Recommendation + Acceptance + Follow-Through.

As for myself, having worked in small animal practice in both Australia and the UK, I’m all too aware of the struggle to fit effective compliance advice into the 10 or 15 minutes allocated to each consultation and so I believe it’s important to focus any training on the client communication side of the compliance equation. After all, it’s in the consultation room that the greatest impact can be made (or the biggest mistakes can happen!).

As a result, we have put experienced actors at the heart of our training model. Beverley Dean (who has spent a lot of time training vets, particularly new graduates) and Steven Wedd (once a vet in practice himself) lead delegates through a series of role plays and workshops, “playing” both the client and practice staff in different scenarios.


In doing this, they are able to explore an entire toolkit of communication skills – including everything from listening skills and open questioning, to checking understanding and dealing with emotion.

We want to provide delegates with a simple, yet powerful and effective toolkit to take back to practice, to share with colleagues. These are very powerful, distinct tools that can be used in both everyday and challenging situations to enhance both concordance (shared decision-making) and compliance.

Ultimately, we want vets to leave with more confidence in their communications abilities as well as a definite plan for how to improve compliance in their practice. On this latter point, we marry up the fun actor- led element of the workshop with some more serious yet practical tips on compliance monitoring tools, to better equip vets. This is because a practice needs a business plan in place with efficient processes to measure and track compliance – ideally benchmarking against previous years.

Processes also need to be rigorous, with clear standard operating procedures that ensure all practice staff are well versed in encouraging repeat visits and implementing efficient reminder systems.

London vet, Rodney Zasman, is a big advocate of the interactive, actor-led approach to compliance training, after attending a session last year. He admitted to initially feeling a bit apprehensive about attending the course, but went on to say how engaging the sessions were and how much they encouraged active participation.

To quote him, Rodney said: “We were shown how to structure plans to improve compliance and most importantly how to measure it. We were also divided into groups to devise our own plans to increase the percentage of dentals and pets receiving preventive healthcare – these plans were very easy to adapt to suit our individual practices.

“We were also set some homework and we were given some goals to achieve in three days, three weeks and three months. The workshop has definitely changed the way we practise and communicate with our clients.”

In summary, compliance is critical to the business success of any vet practice, as it is via follow-up purchases and consultations that practice finances will flourish. More importantly, it is critical to the health of the animal to encourage high levels of compliance from its owner. It’s for this reason that compliance training needs to work hard at becoming more appealing to busy vet practices.