Ease your veterinary clients' anesthesia fears


My clients are afraid of anesthesia. How can I explain the risks and importance?

Q. My clients are afraid of anesthesia. How can I explain the risks and importance?

If your clients are worried about anesthesia, take it as a good sign—they're actually comfortable enough with you to speak openly about their fears, says Dr. Shawn Finch, a Veterinary Economics Advisory Board member and associate at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital in Omaha, Neb. Dr. Finch lost her own dog, Obie, to anesthesia-related complications in 2000, so she understands why clients feel this way.

Shawn Finch, dvm

First, present all of the information about the procedure and the anesthesia, from the history and pre-anesthetic workup to the anesthesia plan and monitoring. Then spend some time exploring the client's fears, questions, and concerns. While anesthesia may seem like a routine event for you, it's a major one for your clients and their pets, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. Here are some important points Dr. Finch suggests you consider when talking to your clients:

1. Don't be modest. Your clients will take comfort in hearing about the precautions you take to ensure their pets do as well as possible. Tell them about your excellent veterinary team, safe anesthetic protocols, and top-of-the-line monitoring practices.

2. Don't downplay the risks. Be upfront about the risks involved with anesthesia, but also explain that the risks are small—and why you believe they're worth taking.

3. Make sure you're on the same page. Talk through your client's concerns until you both feel as though you understand the viewpoint of the other. If your client has a firm understanding of why you recommend anesthesia, he or she will probably schedule the procedure, knowing the pet will be much better off in your care.

4. Know that the client might say no. It's possible that some clients will still decline the anesthesia, but at the very least they'll feel valued and heard. And once they've had a chance to process the discussion and ask follow-up questions, they may even schedule the procedure in the future. Even if they don't, an honest and professional discussion is much better than a vacant smile and a nod from a client who doesn't feel comfortable admitting to concerns. And chances are, it's the uncomfortable client who won't schedule the procedure you just recommended.

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