Show clients what really goes on in the back room of your veterinary practice

Show clients what really goes on in the back room of your veterinary practice

Veterinary medicine isn't a game—so why are you playing hide-and-seek with clients?
Mar 01, 2011

As a curious practice owner, I've spent years asking people at social gatherings what they like and don't like about their veterinarians. I get a lot of different answers, but one of the biggest reasons people say they switch doctors doesn't surprise me at all: "I used to go to that veterinarian, but he always took my dog to the back and never really touched or talked to my dog very much."

It's understandable why veterinarians do that. We like the back. We can visit with team members about our weekend. We can find extra hands. And it's often easier to get things done there than in a crowded exam room. But someone important is missing: the client.

I think we veterinarians are taking animals out of the exam room too frequently. Which means we're neglecting the people who pay the bills.


Now, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some cats and dogs can be safely examined and treated only while they're sedated—even for nail trims. And then there's the occasional "shark," all pointy teeth and snapping. "It doesn't seem like he enjoys being here today," you say as you manhandle the unhappy animal toward the door. But veterinarians and technicians do this way more often than necessary—because it's easy.

It's gotten so that some clinics may as well eliminate their exam rooms altogether. The receptionist or veterinary assistant takes the dog from the waiting area to the exam room or directly to the back. The doctor handles treatment out of view of the client and then explains what was done in the exam room for a minute or two. Then the client-patient pair is ushered to the front desk for payment. We're playing too much hide-and-seek with clients and not enough show-and-tell.


For maximum client compliance, veterinarians should show bottles of worms, offer views through the videoscope of bloody otitis externa, and mix that $85 vaccine right there in the exam room. An occasional client may be grossed out, but pet owners who see problems up close understand what you're doing and better perceive the importance of the at-home treatment and recheck exam you recommend. My associates average an impressive 50 percent recheck rate. My colleague Dr. David Jackson in Fairfax, Va., approaches 100 percent and attributes it to exam-room demonstration.

If you're worried about a squeamish pet owner, just ask: "Would you like to see this?" Most times, the client wants to learn more. And people are willing to pay for what they see.


Some veterinarians may complain that this is too much like show business. It's not. People want us to address the needs of their pets and do it in a way they understand. In addition, clients who observe the treatment being done in the back are more likely to comply with the medical recommendations and be more forgiving the next time they have to wait to see the veterinarian or veterinary technician.

You don't have to show and tell. You can hide your great work and necessary treatment in the back. You only need to show and tell if you want double-digit growth.

Dr. Clark is Veterinary Economics' Practice Management Editor, and managing partner of Woodland West Animal Hospital, Woodland Pet Resort, and Woodland Trails practice in Tulsa and Edmond, Okla. Send comments to