3 Tips for Communicating the Value of a Diagnostic Baseline

When a pet is sick and in need of treatment, it's easy to explain—and demonstrate—why lab testing is important. But if you find it difficult to communicate the value of baseline testing to your clients when their pets are young, healthy, or asymptomatic, you're not alone.

Use the following three tips to establish a diagnostic baseline for preventive care so that you're showcasing the value to your clients and monitoring their pets' health.

1. Establish the Individual Pet's Normal

Although many labs have done a great job establishing reference ranges for dogs, cats, and other veterinary species, each pet is truly unique when it comes to their individual baseline. In reality, these intervals allow for quite a bit of variance. When a pet is sick, this can make data interpretation difficult if a pet's results fall in the "low end" or "high end" of the normal ranges. However, if the pet has an established baseline on file or, better yet, serial results from each wellness visit, it may be easier to interpret the data and make decisions about next recommendations, whether that's additional testing, specific treatment, or continuing to follow up over time. In some cases, it could also mean that nothing else is needed based on the results, which is a huge relief for the client.

  Wondering how to talk with clients about preventive care? Learn how to start the conversation in our e-book, "5 Tips for Talking with Clients about Preventive Care"​

Knowing the pet's individual normal also gives you the chance to assess trends over time. Once you have the normal established, you can look for trends in the values that may indicate there's a deviation even before the pet shows any signs or results outside of the normal interval. Often, these deviations are detected during routine wellness screenings that include lab testing. If you can see that a value is increasing each year, even if it stays within the normal range, you'll have the chance to recommend further investigation that could positively impact the pet's quality and quantity of life.

2. Indicate the Value of Earlier Detection

Pets can't tell their owners or veterinarians if they're feeling off—and in many cases, they may try to hide it. In fact, it is in animals' nature to mask disease. Data from the American Animal Hospital Association collected on apparently healthy dogs and cats found that 1 in 7 adults, 1 in 5 seniors, and 2 in 5 geriatric pets who underwent routine lab screening returned with results that warranted additional workup or treatment. When clients elect routine lab testing, they reduce the chance that an underlying problem could go undetected.

The problem may be found during the first screening, on subsequent tests as a marked deviation from that pet's normal, or from an evolving trend in the pet's internal health status that could negatively impact their quality of life. The sooner you see the change from normal, the faster problems can be addressed and treated—before it develops into a more serious condition. This means a better chance at a longer, happier, healthier life.

3. Explain How Testing Can Cost Less in the Long Run

One of the biggest pushbacks veterinarians may experience when recommending baseline lab testing in apparently healthy pets is cost concern. However, earlier detection through the use of routine screening can actually save money down the road. It is much less expensive to run simple and reasonable tests every year (or every 6 months in senior pets) than to treat a critically ill pet.

Additionally, a patient may have a value that repeatedly falls slightly outside of the reference range on their routine screenings, but without trending up or down. If the value remains static and is one that does not cause concern based on the full clinical picture, you may avoid recommending additional testing that is unnecessary and costly.

Educating and Communicating With Clients Effectively

Pet owners will do just about anything to extend the quality and quantity of their pets' lives, but it isn't always obvious to them that routine lab testing can be a very effective way to do so. They may be more focused on food choices, treats, and enrichment—all of which are important, but none of which provide a window into the internal health of the patient.

Educating your clients on the benefits of preventive care is a responsibility that you and your team can take on together. Although the conversations may seem tough at first, the rewards are worth it—the more you practice, the easier it will get. Helping clients to understand how this routine screening allows for early detection, better decision-making, and improved outcomes leads to greater acceptance, healthier patients, and improved overall job satisfaction. Everybody wins, but you have to put in the effort and be willing to accept that you might not get a "yes" every time.


Nell Ostermeier

Dr. Ostermeier is an entrepreneur at heart and operates peopleandpet.com, a virtual practice providing telehealth and education for pet parents as well as consultations for veterinarians who wish to safely integrate holistic options into conventional medicine. She earned her DVM from the University of Illinois in 2004 and, since that time, has worked with multiple species and performed varied roles, including associate veterinarian, relief veterinarian, and practice owner. Dr. Ostermeier is an expert in integrative medicine and veterinary acupuncture, and she has spoken at conferences around the world. As an IDEXX regional thought leader, she supports veterinarians in promoting diagnostics as the basis for best preventive care and individualized treatment plans. The views and opinions in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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