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Understanding the clients at your practice
A veterinary expert shares strategies to maximize communication effectiveness and improve compliance.
Veterinary professionals have a unique relationship with clients: They must get through to pet owners to get proper care for their patients. This communication is crucial because without client compliance, pets could be at risk of not receiving the care they need or falling victim to Dr Google.
How can veterinary professionals increase compliance? They must understand their client and tailor their communication accordingly.
In his recent lecture at the 2022 Midwest Veterinary Conference,1 Courtney Campbell, DVM, DACVS-SA,a veterinary surgeon at VetSurg in California, explained a key point of getting through to pet owners—understanding what kind of client they are—and suggested using anecdotes from other cases to illustrate why compliance is important.
Types of clients
People have different perspectives on their pet’s care. Campbell noted 3 types of clients: health literate, collaborative, and directive. It is important to know these different styles and which a particular client is to improve compliance.
Health-literate clients typically appear to have a deeper understanding of health care. These clients tend to ask more questions about what is happening with their pets, and according to Campbell, they may have also done research on whatever issue is affecting their pet. The questions they ask often stem from whatever prior knowledge or reading they have done.
The directive client’s goal is to do whatever it takes to get their pet the help they need. They do not ask as many questions as the health-literate client.
“There are some [clients] who [ask] less questions,” Campbell said. “[They] do not want to look under the hood. They just want to drive the car. So [they say], ‘Please tell me what I should do.’ ‘This is what the doctor said, and this is exactly what I am going to do.’”
The remaining clients you see at your practice will most likely fall somewhere in the middle of health literate and directive, which Campbell describes as collaborative. Collaborative clients view the treatment as a team effort. They will listen to the veterinarian, but Campbell noted that will not stop them from putting their own spin on the treatment plan.
For example, Campbell explained that collaborative clients might think something like: “I’ll listen to the expert, but I also want to do my own thing,” or “[The doctor] recommends I [go] home [with] trazodone and acepromazine, but I’m just going to sprinkle a little cannabidiol on it.”
Achieving compliance through storytelling
After identifying which kind of client you’re working with, you can adapt how you communicate to more effectively connect with them. One strategy that Campbell uses with certain clients is relating what the pet owner is going through with their animal to other clients’ experiences.
If you tell a pet owner that a different client at the clinic did not follow their pet’s treatment plan and the pet ended up reinfected or sicker than before, it can help achieve compliance. Campbell said that although some might consider this a scare tactic, he views it as the staff doing what’s best for the patient. If telling the owner about a real-life scenario achieves compliance, the pet gets the care it needs.
“If we want to make sure that we increase compliance for the best care of that animal [and the] best care of that family, increase revenues for the hospital while saving unnecessary pain and suffering, and [avoid] high medical bills for those around us in our community, then we have to get serious about [how we communicate],” Campbell said.
Campbell C. Essential strategies to maximize communication effectiveness. Presented at: Midwest Veterinary Conference; February 17-19, 2022; virtual. Accessed March 23, 2022. https://mvcinfo.elevate.commpartners.com/products/457-essential-strategies-to-maximize-communication-effectiveness