Master the calm vaccine veterinary visit


Pre-visit client education and exam-room visibility and efficiency make this practice owners vaccine and wellness visits healthy, happy and profitable.

Marko Novkov/

A great veterinary visit at Veterinary Medical Center in Fort Mill, South Carolina, doesn't start in the exam room. Or at the front desk, when the receptionist greets client and patient.

It starts when the appointment is made and involves communication and tactics that roll out in emails, texts, face-to-face conversations and in-practice techniques that make wellness visits calmer, safer and more educational. Practice owner Julie Reck, DVM-a big fan of Fear Free practice and efficient yet educational appointments-shared some ideas with dvm360 that “close the client service circle” for pet owners coming in for these appointments.

Before the vaccine or wellness visit

> Records in! If this is a new client, Dr. Reck's team makes sure all the previous information from any other clinics is in the file. “If we need to call the clinic the day of the appointment and ask for the records, that stresses everybody out,” she says.

> Pet ready! Receptionists ask clients over the phone and in digital reminders as the day approaches to prepare pets in three ways (especially dogs):

1. “Please bring the pet hungry.” The team will feed the meal as positive reinforcement during the appointment.

2. “Please bring a stool sample.” This is a bigger issue for cats than dogs, says Dr. Reck: “If it's a dog, I'm probably doing a rectal exam as part of a complete exam, but if I'm looking at cats, that's different. If I directly go get that sample, it's for sure going to piss off the cat.”

It can also take upwards of 15 minutes to review the sample on a microscope, so if a stool sample wings its way to the lab while the rest of the exam starts, you're efficient. “I don't want to run that stool sample 25 minutes into the appointment,” she says.

3. “Please bring your pet dressed appropriately.” Of course, we're not talking Halloween costumes and cardigans for a chilly AC system: “Dogs need an appropriate collar they can't pull out of,” Dr. Reck says. “And no retractable leashes-they'll get tangled up in reception and that's another few minutes we lose in the appointment.”

When it comes to cats, Dr. Reck's team will work with anything a client brings, but carriers opened from the top are ideal.

4. Bonus: “Please drive smoothly.” When Dr. Reck has time to educate, she'll encourage clients to take it easy on the way to the visit: no slamming the accelerator and the brake.

“If they hear the dog shuffling around in the back seat [for balance], that's not stress-free,” she says. She encourages clients to make sure wherever the dog sits or stands has good footing (no slippery floor liners). “After a super-stressful drive, it's hard to unwind a patient from that,” she says.


During the vaccine or wellness visit

> Tech kicks off! This one's familiar to most of you: The veterinary technician goes in first, takes a basic history, starts gathering an idea of what services are needed, then steps out of the room and starts the appointment record in the practice software, ordering up the basics of what client has accepted so far.

A look at low-volume vaccines

Dr. Julie Reck says she thinks a little less volume and a little more time with low-volume vaccines is worth it, especially for smaller dogs.

“Some patients don't care at all when we give vaccines, because they're engaged in the treats,” Dr. Reck says. “But I do personally see a difference [when I give low-volume vaccines] to sensitive patients or smaller patients.”

Low-volume vaccines are often a talking point during the visit, too-a differentiator between vaccinations in clinic and those in pop-up shot clinics out in the community: “They're a conversation starter with clients. I'm giving the vaccines and telling them about less preservatives, lower volume and less pain for the pet.”

Because clients can get nervous at the sight of the needle, and pets can pick up on clients' nervousness, Dr. Reck uses the conversation as a distraction “to activate clients' frontal lobe,” she says. “They appreciate that level of detail and being invited into that discussion.”

> Keep vaccines visible! It takes time for a technician to gather up the vaccines, but it's still more time-efficient and educational for vaccines to be administered in the exam room, says Dr. Reck. “During this time, the doctor is reviewing the technician's plan, discussing client concerns and adjusting the plan,” she says. “The more time you take the pet out of the room, the more time you lose in that appointment.”

Needle etiquette

Dr. Julie Reck uses a new needle for each vaccine given and watches her technique as she gives vaccines during a wellness visit.

“Going through rubber stoppers dulls needles, and a duller needle means more drag, more tissue friction and inflammation,” she says. “I also switch from 22 to 25 gauge as I go through the vaccinations, giving vaccines slowly. If we push really hard, I think it's like kinking the garden hose and spraying more forcefully. I don't want to cause trauma to the subcutaneous tissue.”

> Reward big during pokes! Dr. Reck keeps the highest-value treat or meal for the patient during the most invasive procedures in a wellness exam, like vaccinations and blood draws.

“Cheerios are good for the physical exam, but I whip out the treats for the actual injections,” she says. Dr. Reck smears food on a mat or uses a puzzle mat to keep a food-driven pet distracted: “They're engaged in that, standing still and physically relaxed. I get through 90% to 95% of visits without the pet noticing.”

She employs a number of Fear Free techniques in these visits, and that gives her team more time to educate, adds to the value of getting vaccinations and wellness exams at a veterinary practice and, best of all, gives pets a more pleasant experience, even if they're getting rectal exams, blood draws and vaccinations.

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