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Curbside communication in emergency practice

dvm360dvm360 March 2023
Volume 54
Issue 3
Pages: 34

How to make your emergency curbside visits as productive as in-person visits

communication / tadamichi / stock.adobe.com

tadamichi / stock.adobe.com

Content submitted by ReadyVetGo, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner

As we all know, most US veterinary clinics converted to curbside visits in 2020. Over the past approximately 2 years, most clinics have reopened their doors to in-person visits. However, many practices, especially emergency and specialty hospitals, have remained curbside or adopted a hybrid approach, using a mixture of curbside and in-clinic visits. In addition, many clients who are immunocompromised, are still concerned about COVID exposure, or simply prefer non-contact appointments, choose curbside visits or outside visits, if offered, even if the practice has returned to in-person appointments. It seems that curbside visits are here to stay, so it is imperative that veterinarians are comfortable with curbside communication.

The first moments of an emergency room visit can be stressful and confusing for pet owners, so presenting a reassuring manner and instilling confidence is critically important. The initial curbside phone call may be the first and only interaction the veterinarian will have with a client, so establishing trust quickly is key. However, building trust can be compromised by curbside interaction. Up to 55% of communication is nonverbal, so we need to work harder than usual when interacting with pet owners over the phone. Knowing how to effectively communicate without the use of nonverbal cues is an essential skill.

Here are my top 5 tips for effective phone communication in an emergency setting.

1. Express empathy for the pet and the client

I usually start my phone conversation by saying something like, “This must be so stressful for you! I’m sorry you had to wait four hours and your baby isn’t feeling well. I assure you he’s in here being snuggled by one of our amazing technicians.” Say something in your own language that feels sincere and authentic. Starting off with empathy goes a long way toward reassuring your client and quickly building trust.

2. Speak slowly

Speak much more slowly than feels natural. You’re often giving a lot of complex information, so speaking slowly can help your client understand the information you’re presenting, and help you sound more confident. When you have a lot of information to share and you say it all quickly, you can be perceived as lacking confidence.

3. Check in frequently

Pause frequently and check in with your client to ensure they are following you. In the exam room, you may be able to pick up on nonverbal cues that tell you the pet owner is not comprehending what you are saying. Because you are missing this nonverbal piece on the phone, you should stop frequently to ask things like, “Are you following me?” “What questions do you have at this point?” or “Do you need me to repeat anything?”

4. Pay attention to your surroundings

The emergency room can be a loud place. Barking dogs, crying cats, beeping machines, and other background noise can add to your client’s stress. Ensure the environment is as quiet as possible. Before you pick up the phone, look around the room to see if the environment is appropriate for speaking with a worried pet owner. If necessary, ask the ICU staff to keep their voices down, or step into another room.

5. Tell a story

It can be difficult for pet owners to digest everything you have to say, especially upsetting news, if you jump right in with complex information. However, they can typically follow a well-organized narrative about their pet’s case.

My “story” usually involves summarizing the owner’s history, explaining my physical exam findings, and providing a short list of differential diagnoses, diagnostics, and treatments. My story often sounds like this: “When your pet first came in, I noticed this. When I combine what you’re telling me with what I see on my exam, I think X, Y, and Z are possible causes. Do you have any questions for me right now? Here are the tests I’d like to run to help us get a better understanding of what might be going on. And here are the treatments I’d like to do right now to make your pet feel more comfortable.” Don’t forget to circle back and ask, “What questions do you have for me right now?”

With a little practice, effective phone communication can make your emergency curbside visits as productive as in-person visits. Your clients will appreciate the flexibility of having options and will rest assured that their pet is in good hands.

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