Blood tests: 10 smart responses to clients' questions


Just whisper the word tests, and clients will flood you with questions: what, when, how much? Try these answers to get the OK.

Given the choice between coaxing a feisty stray from underneath a dumpster and explaining why clients should part with their hard-earned cash for Angel's blood work, I have a pretty good idea that most of you would be diving for the cat treats. Believe me, I understand. I also know some tricks that could make those sometimes challenging conversations go more smoothly.

At Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa., we hear the same questions over and over again when we talk about in-house diagnostics. We've been offering these tests for a while, so we've had time to come up with pretty good answers to clients' funny, pointed, and often valid comments. Here's a look at 10 of clients' biggest concerns and the best responses.

THE COMMENT: "Do what's on the card I got in the mail."

THE CULPRIT: Lazy Linda wants you to do whatever's easiest for her. She came prepared to follow the directions on your reminder card, and that's all she wants, please and thanks.

WHAT TO DO: Make it easy for Linda. You probably already list fecal and heartworm tests on your reminder card. Adding an annual reminder for the senior blood profile or drug monitoring screen tells Linda to expect additional testing at the appointment.

Say it again

And you can make it easy for your team, too. Receptionists will simply add the reminders as clients check out after appointments, so you won't need to conduct a major record overhaul. Technicians and assistants can help by telling receptionists when to send reminders. "Mrs. Jones needs to bring Tracker in for a thyroid check in six months. Please send her a reminder in the mail" lets Linda hear the recommendation again and gives the receptionist the information she needs so she doesn't need to track down the doctor to finish the appointment.

THE QUESTION: "How much will it cost?"

THE CULPRIT: Reba Rebate knows the cost of a loaf of bread in Timbuktu, and she probably has a coupon for it, too.

WHAT TO DO: The secret to talking with Reba: Focus on value. Consider your last oil change. If you spent $25 but had to drop your car off, find a ride to work, and find a ride home, it seems like a lot of money for the effort. If you drove to the local Speedlube and they did the job in 15 minutes, that $25 feels like money well spent.

The same is true for lab work. If Reba has to make two trips or wait two days for results, the money she paid feels like it fell into a black hole. If the same money goes to running a senior profile before you vaccinate her 11-year-old Golden retriever, she sees the value of the blood work.

What's your role?

When Reba asks about price, be exact and include the cost of all the services her dog will receive. Then ask, "Would you like me to get started?" If Reba agrees, the doctor can show her the results and explain them before he or she recommends additional testing or treatment.

THE QUESTION: "What are you testing for?"

THE CULPRIT: Suspicious Susan has seen the black helicopters and she's pretty sure sweet Mr. Gardner who lives next door and raises tulips is really an axe murderer because she saw the deadly weapon in his shed last Saturday.

WHAT TO DO: Less is more in this conversation. Susan doesn't want a breakdown of each component of the blood chemistry. A clear, concise big picture understanding is all she needs. You'll say, "We're looking for early changes in the function of Maggie's organs, including her kidneys and liver; diseases like diabetes and anemia; or signs of an infection. We'll also check her thyroid levels because she's older. A lot of older dogs need a thyroid supplement just as a lot of people need a calcium supplement." You'll save the detailed breakdown of lab results for when the doctor has the printout and can show Susan what it means.

4 reasons to offer in-house diagnostics

THE QUESTION: "Is it safe?"

THE CULPRIT: Whether you're proposing arthritis medication or anesthesia for a dental prophy, all Worried Warren ever seems to ask is, "Is it safe?" But without blood work, can you really tell him?

WHAT TO DO: There are five dogs waiting in the lobby and Warren's late for work, so there's no time to discuss which blood panel is right for Scooter and how much it costs when he drops Scooter off. So we include blood profiles in all of our routine anesthesia packages. The technicians and assistants can get right to work pulling blood, and by the time the doctors arrive, the blood results are in the file. Most important, when Warren asks, "Is it really safe?" you can honestly say, "Anesthesia always carries some risks, but by running blood work this morning and completing a comprehensive physical exam before sedation, we're doing everything we can to minimize the risk."

THE QUESTION: "How long will it take?"

THE CULPRIT: Miss Em Patience sweats through the express lane at the grocery store and paces in front of the one-hour photo lab. Right now is at least two seconds too late for her.

WHAT TO DO: Show this client that you value her time. Hand her a checklist of common symptoms senior pets suffer from before she heads to the exam room. This acts as an icebreaker and speeds up the conversation when you take the history and recommend tests. Then you'll say, "By the time Dr. Baker's finished examining Buster, the blood profile results will be ready. If everything checks out OK, we'll give Buster his rabies and Lyme vaccinations."

Another time saver: When you draw blood for the heartworm test, take enough for the entire panel. If Patience wants to talk to the doctor first (and she probably won't), just spin and hold the serum. You'll be that far ahead.

THE QUESTION: "Didn't you run those tests last year?"

THE CULPRIT: Polly Prudence started asking "Why?" when she was 4 years old and she never stopped. And don't think you can get away with "because I said so" for an answer.

WHAT TO DO: The beauty of this question is that it's so easy to answer. You'll say, "Yes, we did. Just as you undergo annual screenings like pap smears, dogs and cats need annual screenings, too. And since our animal friends age much faster than we do, the changes you see in just one year can be a lot more significant." Displaying an age chart in each exam room helps you illustrate this point.

THE QUESTION: "What can you do if the test is positive?"

THE CULPRIT: Common Sense Cal remembers the good ole days when he walked a mile up hill to school (both ways) and Sparky only needed a vet if he was sick.

WHAT TO DO: Cal only wants to run tests that will make a difference. Letting Cal know that testing can lead to small changes that make a huge difference in Sparky's quality of life makes the decision much easier. Try this explanation: "A lot of times we could just change Sparky's diet or add supplements to prevent larger issues like thyroid problems or kidney disease down the road."

THE QUESTION: "Do I really need those tests?"

THE CULPRIT: Frank Franklin thinks he's a straight shooter; his closest friends may call him blunt. He appreciates direct talk and he values facts.

WHAT TO DO: We've done a great job over the last 20 years of teaching clients that vaccinations will prevent disease and help their beloved pets live longer, happier lives. In the past 10 years, we've added heartworm, flea, and tick prevention to the mix. Blood screening is every bit as important to pets' health as vaccinating, yet so many of us feel uncomfortable talking to clients about it.

When you talk to Frank, use the same approach to describe blood work that you would if you were discussing vaccinations. For example, "Blood work is the only way to see what's happening inside the body. These tests will help us identify any issues we need to address to keep Max healthy."

THE QUESTION: "He acted fine yesterday but now he looks like he's dying. What's wrong with him?"

THE CULPRIT: Panicked Pam calls every time Princess has a hairball, and she'd just as soon have an over-the-phone diagnosis right now, thank you very much.

WHAT TO DO: Nothing's more frustrating than feeling powerless. Receptionists always bear the brunt of this with clients like Pam who are scared and waiting for someone to let them know whether their pets will be OK.

Fortunately, in-house diagnostics provide immediate results in an emergency—or a perceived emergency. You can say, "We're conducting blood work so the doctor will have a better picture about what's happening to Princess. I know you're frightened. Can I get you a drink of water while we wait?" That sure feels better than offering worried clients a silent stare or a strained smile.

There are as many reasons for running in-house diagnostics as there are types of clients who visit your practice. Learning to talk to these clients about the benefits of blood work makes your job easier and improves the chances clients will opt for the best care for their pets.

THE COMMENT: "She seems fine. I think I'd notice if she was sick."

THE CULPRIT: Doctor Debbie got her honorary medical degree from the school of hard knocks. She diagnosed her own gallstones using WebMD, so she'd know if Mitzi had a problem.

WHAT TO DO: Testing isn't just for obviously sick pets, but that's a hard leap for Debbie to make. So when you explain why you run blood work before Mitzi gets sick, use examples Debbie can relate to. For example, "Just as you may have regular mammograms, Mitzi needs regular screenings. We don't want to wait until Mitzi looks sick, because by then it could be too late. It's much better to identify small changes now while she's healthy so we can prevent or slow down big diseases."

Caitlin Rivers, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member, is a veterinary assistant and technician supervisor at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. She's owned by five dogs and five cats and spends most of her free time practicing tae kwon do. Please send questions or comments to

Caitlin Rivers

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