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How to own the examination room (Proceedings)

Article

Professional communications (marketing) in the examination room has become an important part of successful veterinary practices. Marketing as discussed here is "the communication of professional services and goods".

Professional communications (marketing) in the examination room has become an important part of successful veterinary practices. Marketing as discussed here is "the communication of professional services and goods". More and more practices are now discovering professional marketing as another practice management tool to be used along with good personnel management and sound accounting practices. Face to face communication skills must be practiced regularly to be effective. We are now entering into a technology period where text messaging is becoming the standard communication tool among young people. We must continue to focus on the importance of face to face communication skills.

Professional marketing has been practiced for years, just as corporate retail marketing, but designated by a different name. Most professionals have referred to marketing techniques as public relations activities. The veterinarian has called marketing "client relations."

The profession needs to continue to be acutely aware of professional ethics and maintain the highest degree of professionalism. Professional marketing is not opposed to that position and philosophy when properly applied. The first step must be to accept marketing as a useful management tool. The next step is to gain understanding in techniques available and then apply those techniques to the practice and the profession.

The veterinary technician and receptionist play a vital role in the overall marketing of professional services and products. In most practices the technician or receptionist probably spends more time with the client than does the veterinarian. The client must gain confidence in the practice before he or she will allow a full range of services to be performed on their animal or return to the practice at a later date for additional or follow-up services. Confidence is gained by the client first through the receptionist, further reinforced by the technician and then finalized by the veterinarian. When support staff are fully used in the marketing plan, the availability and quality of service both increase while net income increases.

Marketing includes client relations, appearance of the hospital, polite support staff, offering full service care, sending client reminders, being neat and clean, sending newsletters, developing a practice web site, providing nutritional and dietary management, providing emergency service, offering pet supplies, giving career talks at the high school, providing handout material to clients, offering annual health assessments, sending sympathy cards, listening to client's needs and so forth. Most marketing techniques start in the reception and examination rooms and require a team effort of veterinarian and staff. One of the most effective methods of service marketing is through the use of the routine complete physical examination.

The physical examination can be a very helpful marketing tool to the full service practice. The use of a complete physical examination can allow many opportunities to explain and promote professional services. The yearly health assessment allows the veterinarian and technician to review the history, previous problems, current problems and offer preventative recommendations.

Some practices have been reluctant to recommend annual examinations because physicians are now recommending fewer complete evaluations for humans. However, the dog and cat age at a rate which is 7 to 9 times more rapidly than that of people. Common sense would indicate a complete evaluation should be done twice a year for maximum health care prevention.

The biannual health assessment should be recommended by all veterinarians and staff. A specific protocol should be developed to allow continuity. These examinations should be scheduled, when possible, during the slow months of the year (September-March), the slower times of the week (Tuesday-Thursday) and slower periods of the day (2:00 pm-4:00 pm).

To ensure high client acceptance of the service, the examination should accomplish the following 8 objectives: 1) introduction, 2) patient touching, 3) listen to client, 4) do something, 5) say something, 6) show something, 7) give something and 8) compliment the client about something. These 8 things will allow the client to feel real value in your service.

      1. Introduction: introducing yourself to the client is personal and polite. Each hospital member should have a name tag on which is visible to the client to reinforce the personal touch. A friendly handshake is also recommended.

      2. Patient Touching: very early in the examination room contact the veterinarian and technician should talk to and touch the pet. After all, the client is presenting a member of their family to you for care.

      3. Listen to the Client: the client often holds the key to the lock on diagnosis and management. The technique of active listening must be developed and used to increase client bonding. Improved levels of communication will result in greater client satisfaction.

      4. Do Something: action should start soon after the patient is placed on the examination table. Medical equipment (digital thermometer, stethoscope, otoscope, etc.) should be used to increase client confidence. The evaluation of the patient should be complete from nose to tail.

      5. Say Something: during the examination physical findings should be provided to the client. Grunts, groans and head nodding mean very little to the concerned client. Explain both negative and positive findings. If the chest sounds clear, report to the owner that the lungs are clear and the heart sounds normal.

      6. Show Something: when physical findings are such that the owner would appreciate knowing, (i.e. Calculus on teeth, ticks on skin, general obesity, tumor in mammary gland, anal sac abscessed, etc.), they should be pointed out specifically to the client. This is an excellent time to reinforce in the client's mind the value of the annual examination. The use of handout material, diagrams, models and specimens clarify the specific problem.

      7. Give Something: each client should leave the clinic with tangible evidence of the service. The role of evidence in a service business is extremely important. The routine use of handout material, business cards, examination evaluation sheet, product samples, fecal containers and similar items will provide the client with the tangible evidence required.

      8. Compliment the Client: everyone likes to receive a compliment. During each office visit a positive compliment should be provided to the client. Statements about "how well you have raised Fluffy" or "how well the animal's weight has been maintained" are welcomed by the client.

During the examination process specific health areas should be discussed. These areas should include: 1) nutrition, 2) oral hygiene, 3) parasite control, 4) immunization status, 5) reproductive control, 6) grooming and general health care to include nails, anal sacs and ears. These areas will direct the discussion into specific health care programs. As an example, nutritional consultation might develop into a weight reduction program followed by a weight maintenance program. Correct oral hygiene might require regular dental cleaning on an annual basis. Positive health care programs will result from careful review and discussion of clinical findings.

Following the physical examination and complete discussion of findings and health care recommendations the office visit should conclude with the question "Have I answered all of your questions?". This question will allow the client one final opportunity to ask for additional help.

Summary

The use of the biannual health assessment will provide an excellent opportunity for the veterinarian and staff to market a total health care program to the conscientious client. The result of this health care program will be a higher quality of care for the patient, increased pet satisfaction from the client and improved practice growth for the veterinarian.

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