3 steps to ease the strain of an itchy workup


Follow these steps to get veterinary clients to follow through.

STEP1: Make a connection with pets and their owners

You can read frustration in every line of Mrs. Concern's body, her fists clutching the leash so tightly her knuckles are white. Sir Scratchalot is itchy. He scratches all night. Or maybe he constantly shakes his head. Looking at the dog, there's no way you can tell for sure whether the pet suffers from allergies, parasites, or ear problems. The doctor may recommend tests, medication, ear cleanings, or even food trials. It may take a while for the doctor to make a diagnosis. So it's important to prepare these clients for the long road ahead.

Ron Butler Jr., a veterinary assistant at Dermatology for Animals in Gilbert, Ariz., says a common reason for clients' frustrations is concern for their pets' health. "A huge portion of this process is constant communication between us and clients so we know what's going on," Butler says. "When we're updated on the pet's health we can offer reassurance and solutions to help clients feel less frustrated when their pets are uncomfortable."

Dermatology issues take commitment from both team members and clients, says Amanda Friedeck, a certified veterinary assistant at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

"If you lose their trust early on, you'll never get them to talk to you, and they won't follow though with the food trial," she says. "Remember that the food trial is a diagnostic test. Sometimes explaining this to the owners will encourage them to continue. It lets them feel like they're participating in the diagnosis of their pets."

STEP2: Communicate: It's your best weapon

During food trials, a common reason for failure is the client doesn't report all of the foods the pet ingests. Or sometimes they don't realize flavored medications and treats can disrupt the results of a food trial.

"Getting a full dietary history from clients is very difficult," Friedeck says. She asks questions like, "Do you give table scraps?" "Do you give a treat when you're administering pills?" and "Do you ever feed your pet vegetables?"

"I keep in contact with the owners about how the patient is doing throughout the process and answer any questions they might have," Friedeck says. "The hardest part is everyone wants to give dogs treats—at the bank, the pet supply store, or even the neighbors. Pet owners need to learn to tell people to please not give their dog treats or table scraps."

Butler agrees that communication is important to manage long-term medical issues. He says effective management starts with strong communication before the visit occurs and continues through the history to the end of the visit, where he says team members should offer both verbal and written instructions.

"Tons and tons of client communication needs to happen between appointments," Butler says. "This includes phone calls, emails, and postcards to remind pet owners about rechecks and blood work."

At Butler's referral practice, his team assigns one technician every day to answer the influx of client calls. "Clients need to be reassured that they're doing the right thing," Butler says. "People often don't realize how much follow up is required for health issues like allergies."

STEP3: Share your story

Friedeck, who has been through the food trial process with her own pet, uses her experience to offer education and support to clients. She says team members must practice patience during the diagnostic process. "If the owner refuses to believe their pet could suffer from a food allergy, don't take it personally," she says. "We keep a list of owners who have been through a food trial who are willing to talk to other pet owners about the experience. Many times, this helps."

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