Accommodating veterinary clients' special needs


You have a diverse population of clients-including some with mobility, sight or hearing difficulties. Make sure you and your practice team are prepared to accommodate anyone who walks through your door.

You probably see clients with disabilities and special needs on a regular basis. And while you and your practice team undoubtedly treat every pet owner that comes through your door with the same respect and care, there might be a few things you could do to make these clients feel even more welcome in your hospital.

Remember your mission

Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and president of the Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan, says that in order to get a good perspective on working with clients who have special needs, we should go back to our mission as practitioners, which is essentially to make life better for pets and their people.

One thing Dr. Rothstein recommends is to schedule appointments for these clients during slower times of the day, so you have the time to address any specific needs they have and focus your energy on good communication. When you’re in the exam room, he suggests enlisting the help of team members who are especially patient or have experience with special needs individuals.

Like friends or family

Dr. Michael Paul, a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting, asks veterinarians to consider this when working with clients who have special needs: “What would you do to help a family member or friend?”

For hearing-impaired clients, Dr. Paul recommends concentrating on good eye contact and speaking clearly so they can see your lips move. And if an assistant can’t accompany the pet owner to the clinic to help with sign language, a whiteboard works well to write back and forth.

For blind or vision-impaired individuals who often have someone accompanying them, Dr. Paul’s main suggestion is to focus on the client—not the other person.

“Talk to the pet owner,” Dr. Paul says. “Show them what you’re doing during the exam. Let them feel what you’re feeling. Get them involved.”

Also, as strange as it may sound, Dr. Paul advises that you shouldn’t forget to smile, even though the client can’t see you. “The sound of your voice changes when you smile,” he says. “They’ll ‘hear’ you smile.”

And finally, for physically disabled clients, Dr. Paul says one of the easiest ways to accommodate them is to make a special house call. But don’t be shy about meeting clients on the lawn in front of your clinic if that’s most convenient for them.

“There are no specific suggestions that fit all cases,” he says. “You have to adapt to the situation. But most importantly, you have to make the person feel special and respected.”

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