Help clients give award-winning care


Standards of care set the stage for you and your clients so you can work together to help pets stay sleek, strong, and full of energy.

Most clients want what's best for their pets, but they don't always know what that is. How can they provide exceptional care if they aren't up-to-date on the latest treatments available, vaccination schedules, and so on? You're the expert they need—or at least you can be. That's exactly why standards of care are important; when you know precisely what care your veterinarian wants to provide, it's easy to pass this information along to clients.

Karyn Gavzer

Standards of care un-muddy the waters, so you never need to wonder what the rule is for dental prophylaxis and when you should recommend the procedure. Consider this sample standard for dental prophylaxis: "A dental prophylaxis recommendation will be made for all pets with an oral health Grade II (moderate gum disease and tartar) or higher." That's pretty clear, right?

With standards of care, you have a set of guidelines that help you understand the rules. Then you can consistently communicate these standards to all clients, every time you see them.

Laying the groundwork

About two-thirds of doctors responding to an informal Veterinary Economics survey say their practice has standards of care in place. Some areas where they're beneficial:

  • puppy health

  • kitten health

  • vaccinations

  • fecal testing

  • heartworm testing and prevention

  • routine appointments

  • dental prophylaxis

  • preanesthetic testing

  • nutrition

  • senior care

  • ovariohysterectomies and neutering.

The easiest way to go about getting standards of care—or refining them if they're not clear—is to ask the practice owner or manager. Be careful, though, because asking for standards could imply that you're unhappy with the level of care your team provides. Even if this is sometimes true, stepping on people's toes will get you nowhere fast. So stay positive and focus on the benefits to get your boss's attention. For example:

  • Standards of care will improve the quality of service we provide at our practice because we'll be making clear recommendations to clients about the care their pets need.

  • Our team will be stronger because we'll be working toward the same goals.

  • Revenue will improve because stronger, more consistent recommendations will lead to more appointments. (For more strategies, see "Selling Standards of Care to Your Boss.")

When you discuss standards of care with your practice owners or managers, the goal is to help them see how standards of care help everyone talk more confidently to clients and support the doctor's recommendations.

Selling standards of care to your boss

Communicating with the client

If you don't understand why care standards are important, ask your doctor or manager questions until you do. Then communicate your team's recommendations for care to clients. Use these tips to improve your interactions:

1. Reinforce your message with repetition. Most clients need to hear a message three to 12 times before they feel they truly understand a new issue and can make a good decision. Seeing and hearing a consistent message helps clients make better healthcare decisions for their pets. So use displays, brochures, handouts, and verbal communication to ensure sufficient exposure of your key messages.

2. Use simple language and words. If clients understand what you're saying, they're more likely to comply. And what may be a simple everyday term to you, like "fecal," may not be a common word to clients. You may need to say "poop" if you're not sure the client understands.

Winning takes the whole team

3. Provide information in bits. In the exam room, clients can quickly become overwhelmed by too much information. Breaking things down on a simple printed list, such as a pet-health report card or an exam summary, helps clients see what care their pets received and lets you know what's needed so you can follow up on the care the doctor recommends.

4. Personalize it. When you give clients a brochure about something you've discussed, highlight or make a checkmark on the points you want them to remember. This simple act personalizes the brochure and provides a greater impact than just giving them a handout to read.

5. Show how much you care. Clients need to know how much you care before they care how much you know. So take the time to show clients that you're concerned about them and their pets. This builds trust and rapport between you and your clients so that when you talk, they'll listen.

In fact, every step you take to improve communication—with the client, among your co-workers, and with the doctor or practice manager—will boost your team's effectiveness at reaching your key goal to keep pets healthy and happy. You'll all be on the same page, sending and receiving a consistent message. And you'll provide the high-quality care that will make your clients' pets the picture of perfect health.

Karyn Gavzer, a certified veterinary practice manager, is a practice management consultant, speaker, and writer. She's also an officer of the Association of Practice Management Consultants and Advisors and an ad hoc faculty member for AAHA. Please send questions or comments to:

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