Put rude client behavior on hold


If cellphone use is becoming a nuisance in your practice, you're not alone.

Today it happened again. I entered an exam room and found my client chatting away on his cellphone. He smiled and pointed at his cat. Now, back when I was more tolerant and my salary wasn't linked to production, I might have waited patiently for him to finish his call. Today, I returned the smile, nodded, and headed to the next room. Consequently, I've conjured up a few solutions to keep cellphone conversations out of exam rooms.

Dr. Melody Heath


The obvious first step: Post signs asking clients to turn off their cellphones. You'll need to post multiple signs in strategic locations throughout the clinic, as some clients are too busy talking, texting, e-mailing, browsing the Web, or gaming to notice the sign you've conveniently posted at the reception desk.

Confiscation could be your next course of action. Receptionists could take cellphones at check-in and store them in a secure container behind the front desk. However, I'm already anticipating the acute separation anxiety this would cause as we temporarily disconnect clients from minute-to-minute communication with the world. Add to this the liability of misplaced or stolen phones, an increased workload for your receptionists, and the fact that some clients seem more willing to part with their keys or their children than with their costly personal electronic devices. Maybe this approach isn't so good.

Alternately, when you enter a room and find your client talking on her phone or she answers a call in your presence, hand the client a card with printed instructions to call the front desk when she becomes available. The receptionist (sorry, more work) will inform the client that the staff will see her when they become available. Unfortunately, your clients are now dictating the schedule.

The opposite approach is to exit the exam room and ask your receptionist to call the client. There's a slim chance she won't answer call waiting, but it's more likely she will.

Want to get their attention quickly? Remove the pet from the room and head for "the back." Most pet owners become curious or concerned and will emerge from the room momentarily.

An even more productive approach: If clients continue to talk on their phones in your presence, assume they want optimal care for their pets and go ahead with all recommended procedures, testing, and vaccinations. Consider inserting a covert aggravation fee somewhere in the bill. You may initially get a few objections, but I guarantee that these clients will be attentive on future visits.

A more business-savvy option is to have clients sign a waiver stating that if they choose to use their cellphones during their allotted appointment, they will continue to be charged appropriately for the doctor's time. Attorneys wouldn't stop the time clock, would they?


I realize that none of the above solutions are actually viable, so I'm considering teaching a course on cellphone etiquette. Don't get me wrong. I can appreciate the skill of people who can text blindly inside of sweatshirt pockets or talk on their phones while holding a cat and paying the receptionist. But common courtesy is uncommon, and cellphone etiquette is appalling. I'll teach potential clients the basics: You're not obligated to be available 24/7. Bystanders really do not want to hear your personal conversations. A cellphone on the table implies you're ready to communicate. The person in front of you deserves an active listener and takes precedence over unseen callers. Lastly, the world will not self-destruct if your cellphone is turned off for a few minutes. Then again ... has anyone ever tried?

Dr. Melody Heath is an associate veterinarian and freelance writer in Hickory, N.C. Please send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com.

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