The American Association of Equine Practitioners does an excellent job of supporting its membership, constantly trying to improve continuing education programs, offering newsletters and keeping up to date on veterinary matters of political importance, as just a few examples. The newest program on the AAEP roster is the recently developed AAEP Touch, which is intended to provide “tools to connect practitioners to their clients and their horses.” So what exactly does this program do, and how does it work on behalf of AAEP members?
What Does It Do?
Through a general survey, AAEP has managed to get feedback from 6,000 horse owners, including trainers, breeders and farm managers, about their likes and dislikes of their equine veterinarians, their expectations and their needs. This research information is available to members only through the Touch website at aaep.org. Perusing this document, there is little question that an underlying theme expressed by the surveyed group of horse owners is the importance of a veterinarian’s availability, compassion and communication skills. Expertise is important, but an overriding concern by horse owners is that they want to be able to converse with their equine vets and feel like they are valued.
The biggest reason clients switch away from a veterinarian is dissatisfaction with the vet’s communication style, personality or demeanor. So it is worth taking a look at the findings of this survey to be in touch with what the horse owners are telling us. This information could help you improve your image and sense of responsibility to your clients.
AAEP’s Touch has also made provisions of a sample client survey for you to send to your clients for feedback. This tool might help put your finger on the pulse of your individual practice.
Following the collection of this data on the Touch website, AAEP synthesized it into the top 10 lessons that can be taken away by vets who are motivated to improve their relationships with their clients. As you tag on each of these 10 lessons, there are further links to other interviews and articles written by equine vets that offer examples of how particular areas of concern have been tackled by our colleagues.
For instance, the primary lesson gleaned from the survey is that horse owners want their veterinarians available day and night, 24/7. Such a time demand can be untenable and unsustainable for solo practitioners, and also tricky to manage in multi-doctor practices. As an example of Touch resources offered to handle such practice dilemmas, included in the page on Lesson #1 are links to five different papers prepared by equine practitioners on how they have dealt with this demand for round-the-clock coverage.
In years past, AAEP has focused on Work/Life Balance solutions to help its members avoid burnout and find ways to practice without losing one’s personal identity and time for personal pursuits. That challenge remains as a dominant concern considering the demand that horse owners have on our availability. For young practitioners just getting their feet wet, it can be quite helpful to “listen” to what your older colleagues have to say from their experiential reference point. The Touch website makes that possible from the comfort of your home or office.
The other nine top lessons could stimulate you to a different way of looking at your practice and the way you practice. So access the Touch website and dive in to see what our clients are saying about us, and what we as practitioners are offering about current practice issues and concerns.
Specific Client Types and Needs
Within the “Tools for Success” area of the Touch website are summaries about specific elements of veterinarian-client interaction that are important to owners engaged in specific equestrian disciplines. These concerns can be extremely helpful for a practitioner to know about, especially one who is not well versed in a specific sport.
In addition, there are short videos provided on “Getting to Know the Sport” that further explore a horse owner’s expectations and needs in a specific discipline. Interviews with equine practitioners and trainers are available to watch for information about popular equestrian sports such as dressage, jumping, reining and Western Pleasure. There are also suggestions to the practitioner about terminology specific to each sport along with important aspects of proactive medical care that address relevant health issues created by each athletic pursuit.
Two other videos focus on using the clinical examination to develop your relationship with each client while gathering information about your equine patient. By developing satisfied clients, you have the best chance of building a working and lasting partnership with an owner to deliver the best possible care to the horse.
For those who wish to take some time away from their practices, AAEP Touch offers the Relief Veterinarian Network. This search engine is designed to help practitioners connect with each other to find those who are available for relief coverage. Those willing to offer a relief service should register and get their names into the search engine—it’s free advertising.
Also on the topic of networking, Touch has set up a page for finding a veterinary dental practitioner—not just for vets, but for horse owners. In addition, Touch has produced links to client educational information about the importance of routine dental care. Hopefully this can facilitate your job in educating your clients about services such as dental care that might be of particular interest to you in your practice.
Another growing topic of interest is in the geriatric horse, as more horses are living longer with a good quality of life. Again, Touch has provided article links to help with client education on this topic, including a PowerPoint presentation if you’re inclined to give an educational seminar.
The Touch website is really focused on helping practitioners gain the most from their practice experience. It includes a section for “sharing a tool from your practice.” Experience is a most valuable teacher, and each practitioner has different experiences in his or her practice life, with tricks of the trade gained over years of time. This Touch tool can help facilitate the sharing of good ideas that might just help make someone else’s day go a little easier or a little more efficiently. It’s a nice way to give back to the profession, and it only takes a few moments to fill out your suggestion so that others may avail themselves of a useful idea.
AAEP is also actively sending out periodic “Touchpoints” emails to its members. These include informational articles that your clients might be reading in popular horse magazines. This way, you can familiarize yourself with materials they might be encountering or use these links to provide clients with information that you find useful and appropriate to your practice philosophy.
When you access the Touch website, you’ll find it is very straightforward, and each click on a topic brings you to more possibilities and links. The more practitioners use it, the more likely it is to continue to be developed to bring additional resources to hand. If you have any ideas about further developments or improvements, the staff at the AAEP office is always open to such conversations.
One of the best things about using the Touch website resources is that they could help you be a better practitioner on many levels: understanding your clients’ needs, improving your understanding of the disciplines with which you work, integrating your expertise with that of other equine caregivers and improving your communications skills, as well as finding ways to balance your work and life pursuits. Not only will you be more in “Touch” with your clients, but this tool also gets all of us more in touch with each other as practitioners.
Editor's note: This article was published in early 2015, and many new features have been added to the Touch website.