Category Archives: Communication

The secret reason your clients are afraid

There’s a problem in your office that gets in the way of doing what you went into veterinary medicine to do: Make animals well and win the hearts of their caretakers. Your clients are afraid, but not for the reason you think.

What scares clients that you know about

As a veterinarian or technician, you have plenty of conversations with clients that might scare them, at least at first.

They bring their pet in for a simple checkup, and you find a lump. They think their dog has a nosebleed, you suspect cancer. They’re glad their tubby cat has finally lost weight, and you have to tell them it’s diabetes and then explain insulin injections.

You probably have your own special techniques for calming clients when you know they are afraid. Maybe you’ve practiced a Dr. Herriot smile that makes you look wise. Or you have a simple analogy to explain how the brain works. “See, it’s like a lightbulb.” You’ve learned to look for clients’ shoulders to relax when they realize they can pill their cat.

But what about the ones who are going to pieces right in your office? Maybe before you even walk in the room.

What scares clients that you don’t know about

“How can that be?” you ask. You haven’t even looked at their pet, so what are they scared about?

Let’s leave aside the possibility that they came in because they had found something that worried them.  And then looked it up on the internet. And asked their Facebook friends what they thought. Assume they were fine till they hit your front door. What could have gone wrong?

Think about off-hand remarks. Overheard complaints. A funny look on the face of one of your co-workers. Or your lengthy silence while you stare into their dog’s eye.

Surgeon staring down

Let me give you an example. Yesterday I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning and partial x-rays. I’m fine with the dentist, but by the time they were done, I needed a neck brace for emotional whiplash.

As we were getting started, I mentioned in passing that my gums were a little sensitive and that a bruisey-looking thing that I’d had for years had gotten swollen last week and was now better. Suddenly they were recommending a full set of x-rays and a quick check by the oral surgeon downstairs. “It could be a dying nerve”, the hygienist speculated as she scurried out of the room. “Dying nerve?”

The oral surgeon, a big middle-aged guy with huge hands, swaggered in, drew on his gloves, and tried to yank my lower lip into the backyard. He jabbed every tender spot and announced it was probably a swollen salivary gland that would take care of itself. “It’s not a tumor except in the broadest sense of the word.” “Tumor?”

“If it gets bigger and really bothers you, we can remove it. Of course with the architecture of your mouth, that would be some surgery.”  “Holy cow. The expert thinks this would be ‘some surgery’?”  And as he rode out of sight, he tossed off “It’s nothing to lose sleep over.”

Put yourself in my shoes. I came in for a routine event, no drama. But when several professionals looked worried and casually threw around tumors and nerve death, my whole day veered off course like a doomed rocket. It managed to fly straight again for two reasons: 1) The team figured out pretty fast that nothing was wrong; 2) I politely spoke up about how heavy-handed and brusque the consult was. The hygienist acknowledged that it was true and that she’d heard it before.

If your clients speak up about their concerns and ask you questions, you’ll have a chance to clear things up too. But what if they don’t tell you?

What’s the big deal?

A panicking client can’t concentrate on you or make decisions. She’s tuned into the radio station in her head that’s saying, “Run for your life. Martians have landed in New Jersey.”

Clients who feel blindsided by bad news inexplicably refuse to let you do tests. They stall so they can wrap their minds around this potential disaster.  If they overhear your staff express curiosity about how this will turn out, your clients seethe because employees seem nonchalant about finding a problem in their pet. They may even feel you manipulated their fears to get them to spend money.

But if you don’t figure out that they are unnerved by something they’ve heard, you won’t know what’s going wrong.

How to fix your clients’ secret fears

Since reading minds is hard, you want to prevent secret fears and intervene if they happen. Here’s how.

  • Make your office a calming environment. Use distractions, like music, a TV, or an aquarium to give clients somewhere to focus besides their anxieties.
  • If you sense clients are confused, say something like “Let’s pause. Let’s take a break.” Then ask if they have any questions so far.
  •  Breathe easily as you examine the pet. It will calm everyone in the room.
  •  Talk as you work, so clients know what you are doing. Incidentally, when clients recognize the time and skill that went into the exam, they are more willing to pay your bill.
  • Don’t casually speculate about bad possibilities. Wait till you do at least a brief exam and have some evidence for your assessment.
  •  Watch what you say where civilians can hear you. Complaints about coworkers, blaming others when you can’t find something suggests this is a badly run place with interoffice drama—not a place you want to trust your pet to.
  •  At the end of every encounter, review what you did and what the options are. That way, if your clients tuned out for a while to take stock, you have another chance to get through them. If you suspect something you’ve said might disturb them, acknowledge it. “I know this isn’t what you expected when you came in today. It’s a lot to take in. How are you doing with all this?”

 If you liked this article, please leave a comment. And if you really liked it, please share the link.

If you’re having client communication problems, Dr. Susan would be happy to meet with you and your staff.

Be a better doctor with stuff you already own

If you’re a veterinarian, you’re in a bind.

How can you take great care of patients, educate staff, keep clients happy, grow your business, and still make money in this competitive market? Clients demand top quality pet care, but they want to save money. They also want their pet’s healthcare team to keep in close touch and to include them in planning. For their part animal health professionals want to provide care in a way that helps pets, satisfies clients, and pays the bills for the practice.

It’s tempting to think that buying the latest gadget will make your practice stand out and attract business. If you have a real need and know it will get used a lot, a specialized tool can give you bragging rights on your Facebook page. If not, that shiny new toy just takes up space.

Smart devices

But there’s a cheaper, easier option right in your pocket. Use the smart phones and tablets you already own to make money, save money, and provide better client service and pet healthcare. The beauty of this? You already know how to make them work. There’s no manual, no time lost to training.

Phones and tablets let you monitor your patients, fine tune care, and tap the commitment and skill of colleagues and clients to keep pets healthier at less cost. Good use of technology saves you time and lets you delegate conversations and client education to others.

DSC_0067

 

Check out these 17 ways to use your smart devices:

1. Track the progress of pet care at home, such as weight management, by having clients text you updates.

2. Use an app or your own checklist to help clients evaluate pain in their pet.

3. Use your smart phone to monitor vitals and illness. Devices like the PetPace smart collar http://petpace.com/ allow you to track and analyze data and to receive alerts minute by minute.

4. Encourage your clients to keep up with treatment by texting non-judgmental messages every few days. Make sure you provide a way for them to write you back. Conversation is key to cooperation.

5. Improve in-house education by using free web conferencing tools, like Google+ Hangout or Big Blue Button.

6. Use a medical calculation app to figure dosages.

7. Use your tablet to take notes for your electronic medical record or to check information on VIN (Veterinary Information Network) right in the exam room.

8. Use your tablet or digital camera to take pictures of pets, so their families can keep up to date. This is especially helpful when patients are hospitalized. A picture of their loved one resting comfortably or wagging its tail reassures families that your staff is kind as well as competent. You can also add those photographs to the pet’s medical record.

9. Make your tablet a tool to educate clients. For example, show clients how to give sub- cutaneous fluids to their cat by showing them a video on YouTube. That way you can watch it together and answer any questions they may have. You can also introduce them to websites you think have the most accurate information. You may even have a PowerPoint presentation of your own to share with them.

10. Use a storage site like Drop Box to share photographs, radiographs, and any other files among your computers.

11. Use your tablet’s “virtual desktop” to share radiographs (x-rays) with your clients, so they understand what’s wrong and what you plan to do about it. Especially for visual learners, a picture is worth 1000 words.

12. Use sound effects apps to test a pet’s reactions and to help desensitize them from the things they are afraid of. You can also use one sound to muffle other sounds from the waiting room that can disturb a nervous pet. For example, you can make your practice more cat-friendly by putting them in a room with sounds that block the noise of barking dogs.

13. Use the timers on your equipment to track how you spend your time. You may be surprised. Think about one part of your day, like meetings or data entry. How long does that activity actually take?

14. Have clients video record behavior that occurs at home but not in the office. How many times have you had a client say, “My dog had an episode at the dog park that looked like a seizure, but who knows?” Or, “I swear, she was limping this morning.” Now you can see what they see. Make sure they know that sending you a photo doesn’t take the place of an exam.

15. A variation on #14 is to have clients record behavior problems and their surroundings. For example, if a client complains her cat urinates outside the box, have her take pictures where every box is located. She might even video what the cat does in the box, such as perching on the sides. You may be able to tell at a glance that the box is too enclosed or that the cat is avoiding that kind of litter. Solving problem behaviors keeps pets from being surrendered to shelters.

16. Ask clients to video themselves doing health-related tasks, such as drawing up insulin and injecting their pet. You might also ask them to send you before-and-after pictures of injury healing, photos that can go right into your electronic medical record.

17. Use your brain and your tablet’s for what they do best. Let your smart device’s capacity remember those obscure, once-in-a-lifetime medical possibilities. Tap your people skills and professional experience to make the most of client time. Learn what they know, what their concerns are, and how they feel about what your recommendations.

How it works

Here’s a real-life example of how using everyday devices can save you time and make your clients happier. I used to work at a big veterinary teaching hospital in New York City. New Yorkers are smart and tough. They don’t just take your word for things. They want proof, and they demand service. A liberal visiting policy isn’t always enough. Some want to sit by the cage or call their doctor every two hours for an update.

When you think about it, it makes sense. When our human family is laid up, we get to spend hours at their bedside, holding their hand and asking questions of the staff. We can see for ourselves whether their room is clean and if the nurses are compassionate. With pets it’s different. Most veterinary clinics don’t have room for extra people to pull up a chair by a cage and hang out. Veterinary nurses can’t stop to explain what they are doing or answer phone calls.

Then the doctors got new mobile phones. With cameras. Not only could they email clients, they could send pictures of pets doing better. Clients were delighted, and doctors enjoyed spreading good news. And with emails doctors could document their client contact without having to write a separate report.

And that’s how smart devices allow veterinary teams to provide better pet care and client service in less time with less hassle.

Caution

For all the good that smart devices do, it’s important to set limits to their use. Give yourself tech time out. Don’t check your phone at dinner. Tell clients what hours it’s OK to message you and stick to it. And have an office phone or other system so calls go to the veterinarian on duty and don’t give away your personal number.

If you have trouble staying away from your smart devices, use apps that block emails during certain hours. Can’t let go of work? Practice meditation to learn how to stay in the present moment.

What are your favorite ways of using tablets and smart phones around the office? Let us know! Maybe you’ll see your tip in a future post.