Team up for healthier pets


Every veterinary team member has a hand in safeguarding pets' health.

Your veterinarian is much like the fabled little red hen. Just as the hen wanted help to plant, grow, and harvest the wheat to bake the bread, your doctor needs your help to educate pet owners about diagnostics and prepare them for the tests their pets so desperately need. Every member of your practice has an important role in diagnostics. Before you say, "Not I," consider these recommendations for tasks each team member can tackle to make sure pets get the tests the doctor recommends.

Receptionists: Reach out

You're literally on the hook for this, because you're on the phone with clients every day to remind them about their pets' upcoming appointments. This is the perfect time to set the stage and prepare clients by presenting the idea that the veterinarian may run tests during their visit.

"Receptionists play an introductory role in discussing diagnostics with clients," says Ciera Sallese, CVT, a technician at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. "They help remind owners that while their pet is due for an exam and vaccinations, they might also be due for tests, from fecal exams and retrovirus screenings to medication-monitoring blood work."

Dr. Fred Metzger, DABVP, owner of Metzger Animal Hospital, agrees that front office team members play a huge role that starts on the phone. For example, say Mrs. Johnson calls because her dog Princess is sick. The receptionist might say, "Mrs. Johnson, I'm so sorry Princess isn't feeling well. Dr. Cares may want to get a urine sample, so try not to let Princess urinate outside. Dr. Cares may also want to do some blood work."

This prepares the client to expect diagnostics at the appointment, Dr. Metzger says. And it works just as well when you're calling to remind clients about their preventive care visits. In fact, if you're calling the day before the visit, you can offer more detailed instructions that may provide clearer results for the diagnostics the veterinarian recommends. This might include asking the client to withhold the pet's food after midnight so the veterinarian can take a fasting blood sample.

"This is already letting the client know that we're not just going to give a shot, we're going to be doing some blood work," Dr. Metzger says.

Receptionists also play a key role with client communication by sending reminder postcards or emails to increase compliance with routine testing, Sallese says.

Technicians and veterinary assistants: Hold clients' hands

"Whether they're discussing routine testing or explaining that a pet may need a diagnostic workup, technicians play a major role in discussing diagnostics," Sallese says. "Many owners may be aware that their pets need diagnostics, but they may need to have the details explained to them. This is where a technician or assistant can step in and explain from start to finish what the test will entail. Technicians can give detailed explanations of testing, such as blood draws, radiography, ultrasound, and so on."

For example, the technician or assistant might use phrases such as, "The veterinarian may want to run blood work to rule out disease" and "Due to your pet's shifting lameness, the veterinarian may want to test for Lyme disease." The key for team members, Sallese says, is to make a strong recommendation without being too aggressive.

"It's important to remember that, while our job is to inform clients and provide excellent health care, we can only do as much as the owner approves," Sallese says. "Each client has his or her own budget and priorities. We don't want to offend or frustrate clients and make it that much more difficult for the veterinarian to get clients' approval."

At Metzger Animal Hospital, technicians introduce the tests the doctor is likely to recommend. If they sense the client is reluctant, they mention this to the doctor. When the veterinarian enters the exam room, he or she will evaluate the patient and determine the diagnostics the pet needs, Sallese says. Then the doctor will explain to the client why the pet needs the tests.

"If the receptionist and technician have already mentioned that the pet may need these tests, it's less of a surprise for the owner," Sallese says. "And many times it's easier for the veterinarian to get the client's approval to run the tests."

Dr. Metzger says he appreciates this approach because he can enter the exam room prepared. "If I hear that a client's reluctant, I'm not going to change my recommendation. But it gives me a heads-up about what I need to talk about," he says.

Practice managers: Lend a hand

Your technical team knows the reasons behind the tests you offer, but the rest of your team—from receptionists to groomers and kennel attendants—will all benefit from training that explains what each test tells the doctor about the pet's health, Dr. Metzger says. Remember, every team member spends time with your clients, and each point of contact is an educational opportunity for pet owners. Sales representatives are often willing to visit your practice and present short talks to educate your team on these topics so they're prepared for client conversations.

As the practice manager, it's also important to understand the workflow in your practice. If your practice owner is interested in offering realtime care—the approach of using in-house lab testing to offer faster results—you can help explore the medical and the client service opportunities that complement your outside lab resources.

"The reference lab is critical to all practices, and we use this resource for tests we can't perform in-house, like confirmatory thyroid testing, infectious disease speciality testing, cardiac testing, specialized pancreatic tests, and many others," Dr. Metzger says. "Our reference lab also helps us with histopathology, cytology, and internal medicine and clinical pathology consultations."

If you don't have a clear protocol for diagnostics, consider approaching your practice owner with a suggestion that this may improve your client service. Here's an example of a protocol that incorporates realtime care: At Metzger Animal Hospital, the technicians draw the blood and take it to the lab technician. This speeds up the blood work and keeps technicians free to draw other samples or do other work. Once the lab technician finishes with the blood work, the veterinarian can discuss the results with the pet owner. This routine helps to doctor make a faster diagnosis and care plan.

Dr. Metzger says there are many benefits to realtime care, and one is the ability to offer anxious pet owners quick results at the time of their visit.

"The visit runs smoothly when receptionists prepare clients for diagnostics, technicians inform clients and expedite blood draws, and veterinarians promptly interpret results," Sallese says.

"When all team members work together to expedite the steps of diagnostics, it creates the ideal visit."

Portia Stewart is a freelance writer in Lenexa, Kan. Share your thoughts on the message boards at

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