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Discussing diagnostics: Your veterinary super power
Many clients come into the veterinary appointment expecting the veterinarian to be a mystical seer-divining a diagnosis, prognosis and reasonable, successful treatment plan in one office visit. They've heard the slogan, “15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance” too many times and now expect the same from veterinary medicine. Too few clients realize how hard it can be to make an accurate diagnosis and come up with the best treatment plan for an animal that can't tell you what's wrong. To find or confirm a diagnosis we often need additional tests.
Over the years I've developed a few phrases to explain the need for tests to clients. They may sound rehearsed, but they're absolutely true and they really seem to help pet owners see the need for diagnostics. Here are some of my go-to phrases:
> “Even the most talented veterinarian at one of the top veterinary schools or practices in the country can miss a diagnosis without these additional tests.”
> “Getting an accurate diagnosis and coming up with the right treatment plan can be like putting together all the pieces of a very complicated puzzle. I have some of the pieces but I need a few more to try to solve this.”
> “With my physical exam, we have the right ZIP code for your pet's problem. But to narrow it down and have the outcome we both desire, I'm going to need some additional tests to find the reason for the problem.”
> “These tests are like installing large picture windows on your pet's body. They allow us to see how the internal organs are functioning, the integrity of the skeletal system, the interior of the stomach or microscopic parasites that may be causing big problems.”
Once you say you need the tests, stop talking. Wait for the pet owner to respond. The wait can be tortuous, but just pet the patient and have patience.
If the pet owner says “yes,” it's treatment plan time. If the client says “maybe” or “no,” don't immediately fold your diagnostic hand. Wearing my pet advocate hat, I'll typically tell the pet owner, “I might not have explained this to you clearly enough. I need this information if we're going to know exactly what's wrong with (pet's name) and the best way to treat her.”
You can be accused of being late for an appointment, missing a diagnosis or charging too much, but you'll never be accused of not looking after pets' best interests.
Veterinary Economics Practice Leadership Editor and CVC speaker Dr. Marty Becker is a media personality, lecturer, educator and author of dozens of books, including The Healing Power of Pets. He practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho.