“I became a vet, because I like animals and hate people,” is a common sentiment felt among veterinary students. Little do we realize, client communication is the unsung hero of the veterinary world and without it, we cannot treat our patients.
The importance of it, only hits us once we graduate. Our job as veterinarians is to provide patient care and deliver treatment options to clients while being financially sensitive. For this to happen, we require owners to be on our team, to understand our concern for their pet, and to see the importance of diagnostics and treatment on the outcome of their family member. The reality is, the more skilled we are at communicating and advocating for pets, the better care we can provide and the more animals we will save. From a financial perspective, it also means a greater income will be generated for the clinic, hence allowing an increased capacity for your personal income.
These communication skills are something that requires a combination of teaching and experience and for many can be tough to master. During clinical placements, careful attention should be paid to the way vets discuss patient care with clients, intimately this forms our communication building blocks on graduation. However, during the age of COVID-19, these practical experiences are limited, which is why I have compiled the key aspects.
1. Using your clinical exam.
Point out the concerning aspects like tacky mucous membranes, a painful abdomen, high temperature, etc. Clients cannot see their pet the way you do and helping them SEE your concerns will allow them to understand why treatment is important.
2. Structure the discussion.
What are the clinical signs and possible causes? What diagnostics need to be done to rule things out and uncover the underlying cause? And finally, what is the treatment? By providing these answers, the owners can follow your thought process.
3. Tell the truth.
Be honest that the case is challenging and will require specialist advice or further research.
4. Manage expectations and make a clear treatment plan.
You CANNOT fix everything, so ensure they understand the prognosis and complications associated with surgeries and medical conditions. This includes specifying time frames of when things will occur (for example, by the end of my shift, which ends in 12 hours). This helps manage client complaints.
5. Highlight the value.
Ensures the owners understand your concerns and the value and importance of diagnostics and treatment. When discussing treatment, focus it based on what the benefits are for their pet. For example, Fluffy will be on IV fluids to correct dehydration and pain relief so she feels better, when she is comfortable, we will perform diagnostics to understand why she is sick and then prescribe further treatments based on the underlying cause. This way when you advise them of costs, owners understand where they are coming from and how it benefits their pet. Don’t focus on costs, but ensure owners are well informed and keep them updated when treatments unexpectedly go over the estimate because no one likes a surprise bill.
6. Be consistent.
Most importantly, keep in communication open with clients, whether that is a text message update of their pets resting in hospital or a quick phone call to say you are heading into a procedure and will touch base with them soon. It is the little things that make a difference.
Finally, owners won’t trust you with their pet because of how much you know, just how much you care.