A few ill-chosen words can leave your message garbled. So if you see confusion or anger when you expected a smile, rewind your conversation and look for these verbal miscues.
"Give these eye drops every three hours." We almost always overestimate our clients' abilities to medicate their pets. Like yours, our practice team tries to help. We never recommend administering medications three times a day if twice will work and once a day is better still. Eye drops and ear medications are particularly difficult, so we demonstrate and work hard to be sure clients feel comfortable. Of course, call-backs and re-checks are vital to the success of our medication instructions.
"Pain is useful." This idea had no real merit in the dark ages of the profession, and it certainly doesn't in this enlightened era. Pain control for every indicated condition is a cornerstone of our practice ethos. With the new medications available, pain is almost always controllable. If analgesia isn't a large part of your practice, you're missing a rewarding, remunerative opportunity.
"If you'd only..." Guilt, though often well deserved, is seldom productive. Instead of mentioning that pyometra is best treated sooner than later, always praise the client for bringing the patient in when he or she did. If clients feel guilty or shamed, you can be sure the next illness won't result in a visit to your clinic, if the client seeks care at all.
"Don't believe stuff on the Web!" They will anyway. So send your clients to accurate and informative Web sites, or they'll end up at the worst places imaginable. My favorites are www.petplace.com and www.veterinarypartner.com. Specialty sites for specific diseases, such as www.felinediabetes.com, are also good. You can't stop clients from accessing the anti-medicine sites or the latest quacks, but at least you can give them something to use for comparison. Information is power, and people seek it. Help them find the way.
"She really needs to eat this diet." If my patients could talk, they'd say, "No I don't." What occurs under controlled conditions and feeding trials has little to do with the dog that's used to chomping down snacks at the Golden Arches drive-through. And many cats will gleefully starve themselves into lipidosis if I really insist. Instead, my team and I discuss the rationale for the food and how important it is. We make suggestions for increasing the palatability, and we make sure our clients know there are alternatives—and that some food is better than the best food. In the end, the patient has the last meow.
"This isn't the dog for you." I know it, and you know it. But chow puppies sure are cute. Telling clients they chose the wrong pet is a variant of making them feel guilty. Instead, tell them what problems to watch for and offer as many solutions as possible. And I try to refrain from saying, "Wow, a shar pei puppy! Let me call my travel agent."
"Don't worry, Fluffy will be fine!" Of course, you never want to guarantee results, and you should always give a prognosis timeline. "The vomiting will stop tonight, he'll eat tomorrow, and the diarrhea will be gone by Saturday. Call me if not." When clients know what to expect during recovery, they're much more likely to be satisfied with your treatment and to notify you with any problems. Yes, call-backs and progress reports let you see how your medicine is working, but you can alleviate a lot of concern by briefly sharing your expectations.
Dr. Craig Woloshyn, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, avoids these phrases at the Animal Medical Clinic in Spring Hill, Fla., which he owns. He also shares his advice through Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting. Please send questions or comments to: email@example.com