Veterinary clients' biggest doctor complaints revealed

Knowing what makes clients tick can help you resolve compliance issues at your veterinary practice.
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Jan 01, 2014

In a national survey, Consumer Reports asked 1,000 Americans to rate typical complaints about doctors on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning you aren't bothered by complaints at all, and 10 meaning you're tremendously bothered.

Seminar audiences often guess that wait times or inconvenient office hours are the biggest complaints. Those are certainly problematic, but in fact, an "unclear explanation of a problem" was No. 1 on the list.

If this occurs in your practice, it may cause clients to decline your recommendations for surgery, dental prophylaxis, lab work or other services. In the case of home care instructions, it may lead to non-compliance.

One approach to dealing with this communication gap is the "Teach-Back Technique," recommended by consultant Wendy Leebov and pulmonologist Carla Rotering, MD, in their book, The Language of Caring Guide for Physicians: Communication Essentials for Patient-Centered Care. (Leebov Golde Group, 2012).

To determine what clients understand, Leebov and Rotering suggest asking open-ended questions. If for example, you ask, "Is that clear?" or "Do you understand?" many people will say "yes" even if it isn't clear because they may feel rushed or guilty about taking more of your time, or don't want to appear stupid. Others will say "yes" because they think they understand, when in fact, they don't.

Instead, ask clients to repeat in their own words their understanding of what they heard. The authors suggest that as you ask, sound supportive and non-threatening, so clients don't feel tested or embarrassed. For example, say, "I want to be sure I've explained this well. At this point, what's your understanding of Max's condition?" or, "I want to be sure I've been clear. From your understanding, what's the most important thing to do when you get home?"

Then listen to what the client says and clarify any information gaps or misunderstandings. It will greatly increase the chances that clients will comply with your recommendations.

Veterinary Ecomonics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of seven best-selling books, including 101 Secrets of a High Performance Veterinary Practice and 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices.