The client bites back


The new associate ignores a team members warning and the veterinary practice owner blows up in this story of a snappy pooch and a snippy client with an unhappy ending.

Immovable pet owner meets irresistible estimate: This might not go well. (Illustration idea: Anne McDonald Campfield, DVM; illustrator: Ryan Ostrander)The past month has been busy at the practice (hooray!), but the income isn't what Dr. Codger would like (boo!), especially now that he has to cover new associate Dr. Greenskin's salary. He's been putting a lot of effort into getting Dr. Greenskin up to speed with the practice standards he's carefully crafted over the past 50-plus years. With the amount of handholding he needs to do, Dr. Codger is often left wondering what the heck these vet schools are teaching nowadays.

Meanwhile, Dr. Greenskin is starting to feel that her extensive (read: expensive) training is a bit lost on some of her client base. She's disheartened that more than half of her recommendations are declined or flat-out ignored.

Last week Dr. Codger had to rush out of the clinic after lunch to deal with a burst water pipe at home, leaving afternoon appointments for Dr. Greenskin to handle.

“You'll be fine!” he reassured her as he dashed out the door with his toolbox. “Just reschedule 'em if there's a problem!”

At 4 p.m., Mrs. Penny Pincer arrived for Precious' annual checkup and vaccinations. Precious is a 6-year-old, 3-pound Chihuahua that would prefer to eat Dr. Greenskin for dinner rather than have anything to do with a checkup or shots of any kind. While Precious growls and snaps, Dr. Greenskin notices a fair amount of tartar built up on Precious' teeth, as well as some inflammation near the gum line.

Dr. Greenskin takes a deep breath and begins to explain the perils of dental disease and recommends preanesthetic bloodwork so they can schedule a complete dental exam and cleaning for Precious. She gets to the part where she explains that Precious may require teeth extractions when Mrs. Pincer stops her.

“Are you sure? This is more than Dr. Codger charges for a simple dental.”

Flabbergasted and red in the cheeks, Mrs. Pincer is quick to correct the young Dr. Greenskin, explaining that Dr. Codger saw Precious only two months ago for limping on the hind legs and said Precious' teeth were fine.

Dr. Greenskin lets both Penny and Precious cool off in the exam room while she prepares an estimate. The receptionist is visibly shaking as she itemizes the entire list of Dr. Greenskin's recommendations and asks hesitantly, “Are you sure? This is more than Dr. Codger charges for a simple dental.” Dr. Greenskin's silent stare coaxes the receptionist into the room to review the estimate.

“What in heaven's name have you done this time?!"

Just as Mrs. Pincer's shrieks of discontent ring out, Dr. Codger returns from his plumbing battle at home. With pants rolled up and putty still stuck in his hair, Dr. Codger rushes past Dr. Greenskin and into the exam room bellowing, “What in heaven's name have you done this time?!”

After several minutes of apologies and cajoling with Mrs. Pincer, Dr. Codger finishes the appointment. Precious quickly receives seven vaccines, and Mrs. Pincer's huffing subsides a tiny bit as she settles her discounted bill and loads Precious into the bling-studded carrier and the front seat of her luxury SUV. Precious is now scheduled for his dental next week with Dr. Codger. At the “loyal client” rate with a “courtesy discount” that brings the total to $90.

Could this have been handled better? Could Dr. Greenskin have recognized Mrs. Pincer's many years with the practice and talked over her recommendations in a subtler way to maximize compliance? Did Dr. Greenskin appreciate the hesitant warning from the receptionist? Should Dr. Codger have stopped to talk to his young associate and gotten her side of the story instead of barreling into the exam room and assuming she'd screwed up and pissed off yet another client?

I hope Dr. Greenskin hasn't quit by the time we see these two doctors again in next month's Old School, New School.

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. This series originally appeared in Pulse, the publication of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.

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