Learning the ropes from America’s ‘pet advocate’... - Veterinary Practice
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Learning the ropes from America’s ‘pet advocate’…

David Grant finds an evening listening to Dr Ernie Ward – a veterinarian with serious political ambitions – both entertaining and informative

THE excellent Hotel du Vin in
Birmingham was the setting for
two evening meetings during the
BSAVA congress. I was fortunate to
be invited on Thursday evening to
listen to Dr Ernie Ward.

The meetings were sponsored by
Elanco Companion
Animal Health to
support the launch of a new product, Trifexis,
a palatable tablet that is
effective against fleas and
intestinal worms in dogs.
Before the meeting I took a look at Dr
Ward’s website: it suggested a man of
limitless energy.

Graduating from the Georgia
College of veterinary medicine in
1992 he has been the owner of a very
successful award-winning practice for
the last 22 years. He decided early that
he wanted to do things that would
give him, his family and pets a better
quality of life. His focus became the
prevention of disease and optimising
health rather than concentrating on
ever-increasing complex technology.

Along the way he found time to
write and lecture extensively on pet
health with numerous appearances
on television including Good Morning
, CNN and The Rachel Ray Show,
amongst many others. This led him to
be named as “America’s Pet Advocate”.

He believes in the “Be it, Do it,
Share it” philosophy and states that
his desire is to “reach out and help
others because the relationships with
ourselves, each other and our pet loved ones are the most important reasons
for living”.

In his spare (?) time he is
an avid surfer, scuba diver and enjoys
extreme sport especially endurance
events such as iron man triathlon and
stand-up long distance paddling. He
is a certified sports coach and also a certified personal trainer, as his
interests in health and longevity extend
to people as well as pets.

Once the guests had settled down,
and after the first course, Dr Ward
was introduced to the audience. It was
immediately apparent why he has made
such a success of his media work. He
exuded drive, energy, enthusiasm and
charisma. The talk was more practice
management than dwelling on products
and he began by pro ling one of his

A strong bond

The human-animal bond between this
client and her dog was very strong
– her husband had died and the dog
was her entire life. It went to the
chiropractor regularly and the groomer
every five weeks. This was the first
time he had seen the dog. No regular
vaccines had been given, nor anti-
parasitic products, the diet was poor
and on examination there was grade 3
mitral murmur. Recommendations to deal with this met with the response
that she would “check with the pet
store first”.

This perhaps exaggerated case was
meant to show that, increasingly, at
least in the USA, some clients give
equal weighting to advice, be it from a
veterinary professional or a “16-year-
old kid” in a pet store selling a diet
because it’s on offer.

He produced figures to show that
there had been ever-increasing loss
of practice revenue due to products
being bought elsewhere instead of the
veterinary practice. These tended to
be products that subsequently failed
due to inadequate or no advice. Clients
then blamed veterinary products in
general, making communication even
more difficult.

The bulk of his talk concentrated
on developing a strategy to deal with
the problem of products being bought
elsewhere and also the
failure of some clients
to stay with a practice.
At the heart of this
strategy was very good

Lots of bullet points
followed, many of
them common sense
and perhaps already in
place in many practices.
However, as they built
up it was obvious that
Dr Ward had put a
great deal of thought
into the problem and come up with
a formidable package. Key people
in the practice must share the values
– receptionist, nurse and veterinary
surgeon. As part of training, everyone
signs up to the “Creation of best

He considered it vital that from the
moment the client and a pet walked
in they should feel they were the
most important in the practice at that
moment. This involves greeting the
client and pet and making sure that
the consultation is, and seen to be,

Some of the bullet points that
followed included:

  1. Take a thorough history.
  2. Do a physical examination and tell
    the client what you are doing.
  3. The physical examination, in
    particular, must be thorough and
    he produced diagrams to illustrate
    that every part of the pet should be
  4. Important to have a nurse
    (technician) hold the animal.
  5. Summarise findings with the client
    and involve them in the decision-
    making process.
  6. Every patient deserves one strong
    recommendation at the end of the consultation. This one simple practice
    policy makes a big difference to the
    success of the practice.
  7. Don’t overload the client with
  8. Better to say “Your pet needs this”
    than “I suggest…”.
  9. Monthly worming and flea treatment
    is essential for the well-being of the pet
    and the owner’s family.
  10. As far as parasite treatment goes,
    “There is a lot of confusion out
    there.” Most people who are advised to
    worm their dogs four times a year (an
    ineffective recommendation) only do it
    once or twice at best.
  11. Think parasite control – not
    internal, external.
  12. To improve compliance use
    products that clients can use easily and
    use technology to remind owners re
    repeat prescriptions.
  13. Communication is key– never turn
    your back on a client and don’t leave voids in
    the information; if you
    do they will go to other
    outlets for specifics.
  14. When we hide
    behind technology
    we lose the heart of
    veterinary medicine,
    we lose the physical
    examination. [I found
    this to be a particularly
    potent message.]
  15. Follow-up is important.

The talk was delivered rapid fire and was very humorous, and he kept the
audience on their toes throughout.
There was a great deal of discussion
afterwards while we enjoyed the superb
food and wine. Dr Ward then went
round all the tables in the fashion of a
consummate politician.

As it happens he has political
ambitions too, and I spoke to him
about this. He is running for the Senate
in North Carolina. He is doing this
because he wanted to do something
to change things for the better rather
than whinge (which he hates). He was
due to repeat his talk the following
evening before jetting off first thing in
the morning to re-join the campaign,
supported by his wife Laura.

Will he be Senator Ward by year-
end? He was cautious, as there is a lot
of work to do, and he could face a run-
off in November against another vet,
Dr Bill Gabon. You could not make
it up. I will be watching the campaign
with great interest. If he succeeds I
can’t see it ending there and I would be
willing to bet that he will succeed.

This was one of those evenings that
come along only occasionally and it
was immensely enjoyable to all and of
great benefit.

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