Communicating the Positives of a Negative Vector-Borne Disease Result

Convincing pet owners to elect comprehensive vector-borne disease (VBD) screening—even when their dog is seemingly healthy—can be a challenge. And if your client agrees to the full screening and it comes back negative, you may worry about how pet owners will react. But it's important to showcase the positives as it gives you stronger insights into the health of the pet.

How can you communicate the negative results of a VBD test in a way that feels like a win, so that your clients see the value in this kind of screening and elect screenings in the future?

The Importance of Comprehensive VBD Screening

Knowledge and education build confidence. Therefore, if you start by reminding yourself why VBD testing is important for all dogs, you'll be able to share that information more easily and convey the importance to your clients.

As mosquitoes and ticks spread into new areas, they increase the risk of VBD for both people and pets. Screening panels are sensitive tools used to detect these dangerous diseases, allowing for earlier treatment of affected individual animals. In addition to detection, the surveillance aspect of screening provides valuable information that can be used when assessing the risk of VBD in geographic areas. Without testing, it's difficult to know where the diseases are becoming more or less prevalent or if veterinary parasite control strategies are effective at minimizing this risk for pets.

For up-to-date VBD mapping, visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council's parasite prevalence maps as a resource to increase awareness around the spread and risk of VBD.

How to Communicate the Positives of a Negative Test

As a veterinarian, you don't want to deliver the bad news of a positive VBD result to your client. Instead, you want to be happy to deliver the good news that their VBD screen is negative. Yet, due to the many pressures that you experience when making recommendations about preventive care for your patients, you may feel just as reluctant to deliver the negative results. The pressure can come from within your own internal "guilt" or from your clients if they don't see the inherent value in the tests. The problem lies in how you communicate the negative result.

If you share the news by simply saying you "didn't find anything," it doesn't make the screen sound worthwhile. But the truth is the test provided you with valuable information, regardless. With a negative test, you were able to conclude that the client's pet was not likely to be carrying around one of these dangerous blood-borne disease.

When I deliver the positive news of a negative result, it goes something like this:

"We've got some big wins for Chester's lab work! He's negative for all of the diseases included in the comprehensive VBD screen. We can be confident that our parasite prevention plan is working, and I'm so glad you're taking a proactive role in his preventive healthcare plan. These results will be added to the data that is used to generate those maps I shared with you during our visit. By continuing routine screening, not only are we protecting him, but we're also helping to protect the people and pets in our area through surveillance of vector-borne disease. Thanks again for participating. Do you have any questions?"

When you get comfortable with your contribution to each pet's care, through finding both negative and positive results, or abnormal and normal values, you will become much better at communicating the positives of negative or normal test.

  Let's set the vector straight. Read our e-book on vector-borne diseases.

When it comes to delivering a negative or normal result, many vets will choose to save time by having a technician or assistant call the pet parent. This may inadvertently detract from the client perceived value. If you choose not to make the call, make sure to discuss the importance of the normal test with the technician or assistant, so that they can communicate the value of the results to the client.

Building Your Client Communication Vocabulary for VBD

The bottom line: Don't let the chance of negative testing or low prevalence in your area deter you from making the safest recommendation for your patients. Sometimes, veterinarians can worry too much about what clients will think about specific recommendations. But remember that your clients trust you to make the best recommendations to help their pets live their best lives. By using vocabulary that is easy to understand and that resonates with their everyday life, you can help your clients relate the risk of VBD to their families, including their pets.

To build this effective vocabulary and easily generate talking points during preventive care visits, check out this client resource for your own use, as well as for sharing with pet owners. This brochure provides thorough information on parasites and the diseases that they carry, along with how testing can be used to detect them as part of a protection plan for both people and animals in the home. Once your clients gain a better understanding of the dangers of VBD in pets and the community, they'll be happy to get that negative result every year.

Nell Ostermeier

Dr. Ostermeier is an entrepreneur at heart and operates, 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 authors own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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