Diag-"no"-sis: Just say "no" when clients ask for a phone diagnosis

Receptionists, use these tips to politely turn clients' requests for a phone diagnosis into a veterinary visit with your veterinarian.

(Getty Images)You keep looking at the blinking red light knowing once you press it, you'll be connected to one of your veterinary clients holding to discuss Bella's belly spots. She doesn't want to bother the doctor, but surely you can tell her what those splotches on Bella's belly are?

Let's turn to the pages of the Veterinary Receptionist Handbook, 3rd Edition, to help you stand tall and take the call.

When a client is asking for a diagnosis over the phone, follow these three steps:

1. Ask the client to make an appointment to bring in the pet. You might say, “Mr. Long, from what you're telling me over the phone, I think the doctor should see Spotty. May I make an appointment for you?” Most clients will schedule an appointment. But sometimes clients won't want to bring in their pets because they may not think the condition is serious-or they may not have the money or time. If a client won't make an appointment, move on to step 2:

Don't be a doc!

Even if clinical signs have been described to you many times, don't diagnose over the phone, and don't recommend medicine and remedies. There could be unfortunate consequences if you are wrong. You can safely recommend basic first aid-such as direct pressure to stop bleeding-but when in doubt, let the doctor handle it!

2. Get the doctor's recommendations after explaining the situation, and then call the client back with the information. Whenever you do this, pull the client's record and record the date, the client's description of the pet's aliment, what the doctor recommended, and the fact that you conveyed the information to your client.

3. Ask the doctor to return the client's call. Use your best judgment here. If the problem sounds complicated or the client acts upset, it is often best to let the doctor handle it. Pull the patient's file, attach the client's messages with the signs the client described, and give it to the doctor to return the call.

Any time a client calls about a sick pet, resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Emergencies should be handled immediately, of course.

Check out the recently updated Veterinary Receptionist's Handbook for more tips and tools on handling common questions about medical problems, surgical procedures, diagnostic tests, vaccinations, parasite control issues and much more.