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Make every visit a treat for veterinary patients


Happy patients mean happy clients and team members. Take advantage of this rewards system and exam room form, and give everyone a reason to rejoice.

Dr. Sally Foote, owner of Okaw Veterinary Clinic in Tuscola, Ill., says she's hit on a not-so-novel but woefully underused way to lower aggression and anxiety in patients in her clinic: rewards. She says offering treats while you give patients shots and trim their nails results in less aggression from both dogs and cats. And if patients have a better experience at your clinic, clients are more motivated to bring them in again.


Of course, every patient is different, so Dr. Foote recommends you find out what works for each cat or dog with trial and error. Rewards are easily customizable, and team members should test different treats (peanut butter, liver paste, lamb treats, and so on) to see what works.

Keep in mind that food treats aren't the only type of reward that works. Some pets can also be calmed by verbal and nonverbal praise, Dr. Foote says. And how and where the exam is performed can mean the difference between a hissing cat and purring patient. For example, you may find that Ginger likes to stay in her carrier while Boo would rather be held by a technician during the exam. Paris likes to be petted continuously, but Charlie should be wrapped in a towel for best results.

Once team members discover what makes each pet tick, they need to take notes. (Log on to dvm360.com/treats to download a preference sheet to fill out for each patient.)

"Consistency from the staff in offering the right rewards for each pet helps insure that every exam goes better than the last," Dr. Foote says.


Calming patients with treats can also help prevent injuries. More than 90 percent of workers' compensation injuries at veterinary practices are due to bites and scratches from animals, according to the AVMA Professional Liability Insurance Trust. Frightened cats and dogs bite and scratch far more often than calm pets who give the veterinarian and team members room to examine and treat. In other words: Rewards reduce fear in fretful clients, freaked-out patients, and worried team members.


In addition to smoother exams and better behavior from your patients, the reward system increases profitability by enabling the staff to perform a more complete physical exam. When clients see that you make the exam more comfortable and thorough, they trust you more and are more likely to comply with the recommendations you make. Recheck visits also help build revenue and reinforce the pet's understanding that good things happen at the veterinary clinic. And new patient visits increase through referrals from your established, happy clients.

"Your patients could be dragging their owners into—not out of—your clinic," Dr. Foote says. "Yowling, cowering cats can be a thing of the past once you start rewarding your patients properly."

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