Voices carry in your veterinary practice

November 7, 2016
Kathryn Primm, DVM
Kathryn Primm, DVM

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, but has a growing career as a writer, a speaker and an online voice for veterinarians and pet owners alike.

Hush, hush. Keep it down now. What might pet owners might accidentally overhear and misinterpret at your veterinary practice?

It's time to give voice to a troubling way you might be losing clients: overheard (and misunderstood) comments. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)I recently got a new client from a neighboring veterinary hospital. She'd been a client at the other hospital for several years, but she'd had a bad experience recently. It's the kind of experience that could happen at any of our practices, so I hope we can learn from it.

This client was visiting the practice because her dog was ill. The veterinarian recommended working up the dog, starting with blood work. The owner agreed, but as she was dropping off her dog, she heard the veterinarian say, "Well, we have to get something out of her." The client instantly assumed he was referring to getting money out of her, and she was aghast.

I know this veterinarian, and it's not likely that he was talking about taking advantage of this client for money. But this client doesn't share my sureness of his character and will never go back to his clinic. He lost a client in an instant and didn't even know it. If this client were a techie, this doctor might even get a negative online review that could affect his ability to attract new clients for a long time.

If I had to guess, I'd say he wasn't even referring to this client at all. Maybe he was referring to collecting a urine sample from another patient. Who knows? But this out-of-context comment cost him a client-and anyone else she tells.

The sound of silence

What can veterinary professionals do to avoid this disaster? Should we all be confined to speak only in whispers? Perhaps this is too drastic, but we need to be aware. The walls have ears. It's impossible to monitor every comment, every time. But if there were a rule about keeping voices low, could we prevent this kind of senseless client loss?

There are other ways to manage ambient sound, such as white noise or music in the exam rooms. But they can't cover every moment the client could hear an out-of-context comment.

Come on, feel the noise

Here's what I recommend: Plan a team meeting to discuss noise in your practice. Examine your hospital corridors and your team members. Figure out if this could happen in your hospital. Then implement strategies to raise team awareness. Set up scenarios where technicians, doctors and assistants talk in normal conversational tone while you sit in exam rooms or walk to the front desk to see what you can hear. Play a game, writing down what you thought you heard and compare it to what was really said. Just like the rumor game we played at summer camp, it's important to see the impact of something that seems so minor.

In these ways, you can help protect your practice from losing clients because of inadvertent misinterpreted comments.

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns and practices at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and is the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People.