Hot Topic: How to Handle the Headaches of Recalls
Christine M. Meredith, VMD, and Travis B. Meredith, DVM, MBA, Diplomate ACT
In recent years, animal health news has been overloaded with safety-related product recalls. Since 2007, more than 150 brands of pet foods have been voluntarily recalled.
For example, in 2007 many pet illness and deaths were attributed to melamine-contaminated pet foods. Then late last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported an increase in the number of complaints received regarding dog illnesses and deaths associated with consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China. Finally, last month, Diamond Pet Foods announced the expansion of a voluntary recall of select batches of dry pet food formulas due to potential Salmonella contamination; additional foods were added to the list just this month (May).
Product recalls can be frustrating; anyone who has ever treated a toxicity-related case knows the challenges. Patient history is often sketchy, clinical signs can be misleading, and often a definitive diagnosis is only available long after the case has reached an outcome.
Product recalls also disrupt your day-to-day practice routine. Patients need to be efficiently and effectively switched to a replacement product. Staff members need to be informed on proper client communication about the recalls. Replacement inventories need to be stocked, and concerned clients fill up your phone lines looking for reliable information.
So how does a practice team stay on top of these challenges?
1. BE INFORMED
Your clients look to you as an authority, advisor, and a filter for information; it’s important that we keep ourselves and our team up to date on the most recent information regarding a recall.
Some of the best resources to access reliable information are the regulatory agencies that govern the products we use on a daily basis.
- Pharmaceuticals and diets are governed by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) (fda.gov/animalveterinary).
- Biologic agents and vaccines are governed by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (aphis.usda.gov).
- Topical insecticides are governed by the Environ-mental Protection Agency (epa.gov).
Each agency maintains a website, newsroom, and guidelines on registered products, recalls, and warnings for the veterinarian and the general public. See Resources for Recalls for links to each of these agencies’ websites.
If you’re looking for clinical support or advice on diagnosing and/or reporting a suspected toxicity or adverse event, you can seek the help of a clinical toxicologist. Lisa Murphy, VMD, Diplomate ABT, is an assistant professor of toxicology at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. According to Dr. Murphy, many times help can be found at your closest teaching institution or state veterinary diagnostic laboratory.
“Not every state has a veterinary school, but almost every state has a veterinary diagnostic laboratory that is supported by a staff toxicologist or through a supporting relationship with a partner toxicology laboratory. Clinical toxicologists can be extremely helpful to the private practitioner in case management, ensuring proper diagnostic sample submission, and providing guidance in reporting suspected events to the proper regulatory agency.”
A source not to be forgotten is the manufacturer itself. Many manufacturers maintain a professional services team of veterinarians and technical staff to support calls from veterinarians and consumers. These teams support the practitioner in issues related to product usage as well as record and advise on product-related adverse events.
In addition to the traditional trade publications, there are also veterinary specific news feeds available. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publishes the Animal Health SmartBrief, a daily email that gathers recent news stories, press releases, and public information regarding animal science and veterinary medicine; then delivers the information in an abstract format that can be expanded for further reading. While the practitioner may have to filter through the occasional headline about a musically oriented zoo animal, SmartBrief is an effective way to stay current on key issues related to our industry.
For those savvy in the world of Twitter, there is more to be found than what your favorite celebrity had for breakfast. According to the FDA’s website, the CVM established a Twitter account to answer frequently asked questions and help consumers and veterinary professionals stay up-to-date on animal health issues.
2. BE A SOURCE OF CREDIBLE INFORMATION
Clients will search for information and the Internet is often the first place they head. A recent Google search on “chicken jerky pet toxicity” yielded a modest 42,900 hits and more than one or two of them are incomplete or have a few inaccuracies.
The best way to reduce misinformation is to become a source of accurate information for your clients. This can be accomplished in many different ways, including:
- Posting links to product recall news, press releases, and warnings on your clinic’s website or Facebook page
- Reviewing your client base and their purchasing history to identify those who have purchased recalled products within the past 90 days
- Adding a recall section to regular client newsletters, email communications, or the bottom of invoice messages
- Creating a Press Center in your waiting room
- Partnering with local press outlets to provide the community credible information and to promote you and your team.
There are many different creative and effective ways to communicate with clients. Proactively providing accurate information will greatly reduce your time in both the examination room and on the phone dispelling incomplete or erroneous information.
3. HAVE A PLAN & REPORT SUSPECTED EVENTS
Product-associated adverse events are never planned; therefore, your team needs to be prepared when a suspected case is seen.
- Keep a contact list of regulatory agencies, your favorite toxicologist, and state diagnostic and veterinary toxicology laboratories as well as manufacturer professional service hotlines that is easily accessible to you and your practice team.
- Use your web presence as a communication vehicle for accurate information. Provide links to news releases, recall announcements, and warnings on your clinic’s home page, Facebook page, and/or Twitter feeds.
- Be able to identify at-risk clients. When recalls occur, utilize your practice management system and team to identify clients who have recently purchased recalled products. Proactively contact them and get them in your clinic. You may avoid future problems and the goodwill created is significant.
- Lastly, report suspected events. According to Dr. Murphy, “If you don’t report suspected adverse events to the proper regulatory agency and the manufacturer, they don’t know about it, and they cannot act on it. By proactively reporting these events, you can reduce the likelihood of future cases.”
Resources for Recalls
- FDA (Recalls & Withdrawals): www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/RecallsWithdrawals/default.htm
- FDA Safety Reporting Portal: www.safetyreporting.hhs.gov/
- USDA (Adverse Event Reporting Protocol): www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/vet_biologics/vb_adverse_event.shtml
- EPA (Events Reported to the National Pesticide Information Center): http://pi.ace.orst.edu/vetrep/
Drs. Travis & Christine Meredith are Managing Partners of Axxiom—The Practice Impact Group. You may contact the authors at [email protected].