A better approach to explaining diagnostics to your clients


Instead of simply recommending diagnostics as a way to screen for problems, break down the medical terminology and show clients why it's crucial for their pets.

You know what a complete blood count measures. You know that kidney function affects a pet's creatinine levels. And you know that a low red blood cell count could mean major problems for a pet put under surgical anesthesia.

But most of your clients know none of these things. Ever notice their eyes glazing over when you explain their pet's lab results in the exam room? They might think, "Sure, Doc, whatever you say," then walk out of your clinic in a daze, having learned almost nothing about their pet's health.

And that's a shame, says Dr. Jessica Downing, a partner at Valley Cottage Animal Hospital in Valley Cottage, N.Y. This ignorance means clients trust their gut rather than your expertise when making decisions for their pet. "The more information clients have, the better prepared they are to make these decisions," Dr. Downing says. "If they don't understand why they're agreeing to a treatment or procedure, they're not going to follow our team's recommendations for their pets."

So how do you break down technical information into understandable terms during a brief exam-room conversation? First, make sure you're confident in your communication skills, Dr. Downing says. When you explain the benefits of performing these tests, use examples if possible—perhaps in the past you've discovered early-onset kidney disease in a cat or a quick-spreading infection in a dog as a result of wellness diagnostics. Offering proof of what blood work has done for other patients might be all the motivation some clients need.

Another strategy: Use graphics, Dr. Downing says. Valley Cottage Animal Hospital's lab equipment allows team members to print results that show where a pet's levels fall on a scale. For example, imagine a patient's blood sugar is alarmingly high. Instead of telling the client, "Your cat's reading came out to 450. That's far too high," you could show the client how far out of the normal range the reading sits. "It's a nice way for the client to visualize where their pet's blood work is on that scale," Dr. Downing says.

Most importantly, maintain an open line of communication with your clients, Dr. Downing says. Use clear language and focus on what's important. Don't just explain the medical terminology; describe what it means to clients and their pets. Give clients a reason to take an interest in their pet's health and they might surprise you with their dedication.

"A lot of my clients become very involved," Dr. Downing says. "They understand what a creatinine value means, so at follow-up appointments, they'll ask about the recheck value. Some of them even keep journals and track the values over time. And the more involved and interested they are, the better it is for their pets."

So the next time your clients get that glassy-eyed look while you explain diagnostic results, remember that it's crucial to break down the communication barriers and find a way to get through to them. Click here for a handout you can use to inform clients. After all, when clients understand their pet's healthcare issues, your patients benefit. And so does your practice.

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