Guest blog by Dr Samyra Stuart-Altman | @samyra.jamie | InkNaturally
The idea for this article came after a funny exchange that I overheard between two of my colleagues. When one colleague had asked my client about permission to perform some diagnostics, their answer was, “Whatever Dr. Stuart-Altman wants to do is fine with us.” As my colleague mused about “my clients” always doing whatever I ask them to do, my other colleague said, “That’s because she has taken the time to train her clients.” Naturally this got me thinking about whether I have truly trained my clients, and what that actually meant. Was there a reward for doing what I asked of them? Or was it trust and a professionally friendly relationship that made difficult conversations about their pets just a little bit easier? After thoughtful consideration, I compiled the following list of habits and behaviours that will turn clients into “your best clients.”
Veterinarians are people too.
Always remember: You are not just a white coat that is interested in the patient on your exam table. You are a PERSON in a white coat, who cares for the patient. You are also interested in the PERSON on the other end of the leash. It is so important to make a personal connection with your client right off the hop. If it is your first time meeting them, introduce yourself. Shake their hand (COVID precautions permitting), and ensure to be inclusive with your introductions, including any other team members with you in the exam room. If they are a new client and mention that they were referred by a friend, ask them who and make that connection. I always try to find out something about my clients’ personal lives. Not only am I genuinely interested, but also it helps to find common ground and to form a relationship as people. My goal is to become their trusted family veterinarian, and for that they must see me as their ally, their pet’s advocate, and an expert in their goals for their pet’s care.
Be an approachable professional
Have professional yet casual conversations. It is important for clients to relate to you and to understand your approach to their pet’s care. Veterinarians use medical terms and jargon all the time. And guess what? A lot of clients won’t understand, but may feel too intimidated to ask questions. You do not have to sound like a veterinary anatomy audiobook to sound professional. Explain things in common terms, always remembering that we are not just doctors, but also teachers. Creating a safe space for your clients to ask questions is the ultimate in building their trust in you as their family veterinarian. And speaking of which, don’t forget to check in with your clients, using open-ended questions such as, “ How do you feel about this plan so far?”
Make a shortlist of options
Do not overload your client with options. Try to keep your differential list to three or four items. Yes it is your duty to provide your client with valuable information about their pet, but it is also your duty to filter out the background noise. They are seeking out our expertise to narrow down the list of possibilities so that they are not confused by the infinite (and sometimes scary) information offered by Dr. Google. For example, consider the items you discuss when preparing your client to spay their pet. Sure their pet cat could have uterus unicornis, but are you going to discuss that as a possibility prior to every spay? Though this example is intended to be silly, it still illustrates the point perfectly.
Explain the “Why”, “How” and “What Next.”
Always explain WHY you are asking your client to consent to a specific diagnostic. Is it to differentiate between a life-threatening and non-life-threatening condition? Is it to determine if their pet is in pain? Next explain HOW the result of this test will affect the care of their pet. Will it allow us to intervene to save the pet’s life? Will it allow us to start a treatment plan that will preserve their pet’s quality of life? And finally, WHAT can they expect to happen NEXT as far as the process, timeline for results and expected treatment outcomes. These are all things that we naturally consider in our Objective, Assessment and Plan portions of our medical record. However, they are often forgotten when working with the client to make a plan for their pet.
Above all else, be a good doctor
You may have noticed by now that my guide thus far has not included anything specifically medical. The reason for this is because if you are reading this article that means you are inherently a good doctor, and you are looking for ways to become even better. You naturally possess a moral compass that drives your ethical practice of veterinary medicine, and I believe that you continually aspire to become a better veterinarian. You don’t have to be a perfect doctor, but be a good doctor who wants to be great. And always remember that “the vet” is a person, not a place. Some clients simply take their pet to the vet. My clients take their pets to see their family veterinarian.