Don't leave 'em asking

Don't leave 'em asking

Eight questions to uncover whether you're exceeding clients' expectations during visits for better service and more information.
Nov 01, 2012

This year’s Veterinary Economics article contest winner is a great example of succinct advice on managing a great appointment from an up-and-coming veterinary voice. Enjoy!

Have you ever been faced with that “empty exam feeling” after you’ve left your physician’s office? You feel dissatisfied and confused after receiving a supposed “exam” from a medical professional.

Thankfully, that’s not so for many pet owners who visit our veterinary offices. I’ve heard time and again from clients who say they wish they could see their veterinarian as their personal physician. Many veterinarians practice what I call “exam room excellence,” showering clients in their practice exam rooms with friendliness, openness, wisdom, and care.

Whether you’re new to the profession or a seasoned veteran, dig into your own bedside manner and see if you’re a dynamic doctor or a downward bound dud of a veterinarian.

Now on to question 1 ...

Do clients think you remember them?

Always introduce yourself by name to the client and call the pet by name when entering the exam room. If you’re seeing a client you’ve already met, you should still shake his or her hand and give a warm welcome back to your hospital. Hospitality is a great start to the exam room visit.

Do you truly listen to clients?

Do you always take a few minutes both at the beginning and at the end of a visit to address the client’s specific concerns or questions? This helps avoid that “empty exam feeling” the client could have if they leave with questions unasked (or unanswered).

Do you ask clients open-ended questions?

Instead of asking, “Is your pet on heartworm preventive?” try, “Are you familiar with heartworm disease and how it’s prevented?” These types of questions allow clients to become actively involved in their pet’s health and also give you the opportunity to educate the client.

Do you explain during a physical examination?

Verbalize your explorations and findings, and keep the open communication going while you check out the animal. Explain what you’re examining (and why), and make sure to thoroughly discuss any abnormalities. Wrap it all up with a summary of what you found and any treatment or diagnostic services you recommend.

Do you show, not tell?

Use visual aids and descriptive words when describing diseases (not with complicated jargon, but with processes in everyday English). Explain the short-term and long-term effects that diseases and conditions may have on the pet. For example, you can employ plastic heartworm disease models, orthopedic models, pictures of intestinal parasites, or even in-room videos on a TV, monitor, laptop, or tablet computer.

Do you offer well-written, up-to-date client handouts?

We veterinarians can spend all day every day explaining to clients the specifics of a disease their pet may have. But when that client leaves, more often than not, he or she is feeling confused and scared about what the condition will mean for the beloved pet. This is where a detailed handout comes into play.

Veterinarians as educators should have handouts for the most common diseases and diagnoses they see. I send home handouts every day, and for my chronic disease patients or long-term medication users, I’ve written a handout with the follow-up examination and testing protocols that are needed. These provide useful information to clients and reduce the amount of confusion they feel.

Do you always address the area of client concern?

You should always be sure to revisit the parts of the physical examination, diagnostic results, or further treatment that are of most concern to the client. The client then feels that you’ve performed a complete and thorough examination.

For example, if a pet comes in with a limp in the right back leg and a physical examination reveals periodontal disease, a mild skin infection, and an injury to that leg, you should discuss all of these conditions and treatments in detail, but always come full circle and return at last to the presenting problem.

Do you put all your gadgets to use—high-tech as well as low-tech?

Most of us have so many cool “gadgets” in our practice that would ­really wow and impress clients, if only we’d use them. To start, I recommend you employ your ophthalmoscope and otoscope in every patient visit, even for annual wellness examinations. These are not just for patients who are presenting for specific eye and ear problems.

Another cool “gadget” is your paper measuring tape. I use these for all overweight and obese patients. It’s much easier to convince a client to start their pet on a weight loss plan if they actually see how far their pet is from its ideal weight and body measurements. It’s also rewarding for clients when they return for weight-loss check-ins and see lower numbers and a better body measurement with tape.

Answer yes to these eight questions and you’ll truly be exhibiting exam room excellence to clients.

Many clients have told me, following my physical examination of their pet, that it was the most thorough examination they’ve ever seen. “I wish my doctor would do that for me,” they say. Outshining our human medicine counterparts is never the goal, but it doesn’t hurt.

Dr. Keen is an associate at the two-practice group of Jackson Animal Clinic and North Madison Animal Hospital in Jackson, Tenn.