The Pulse Of Veterinary Medicine

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5 Tips to Help Clients Understand and Remember What You Say

At the end of an appointment, when all is said and done, how much of what you said and did do you think most clients remember? All of it? Maybe half? Just a few highlights? Client education and communication can be especially challenging. There’s a lot going on during a visit, and clients are often stressed, worried, confused or distracted.


Misunderstandings may be minor and even humorous

“We sent a neuter patient home with its e-collar in the owner’s hand,” says Kimber Greene, RVT, Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews, North Carolina. “We told the client to use the collar to prevent his dog from licking the incision. When the patient returned in seven days for suture removal, we found that the client had placed the e-collar around the dog’s waist like a skirt. The funniest part is, it worked beautifully for that patient!”

Misunderstandings can also be unhealthy for patients

“I prescribed Pro-Pectalin, which comes in a metered syringe, for a dog’s diarrhea,” says David Moores, DVM, Tchefuncte Animal Hospital in Madisonville, Louisiana. “It’s supposed to be given orally, but the client misunderstood and gave it rectally. She called because her dog wasn’t getting any better. We figured out what was happening when she complained that the dog didn’t like her messing around with his rear end.”

To help pet owners understand and retain important information, most practices agree on at least five basic practices:

1. Repeat instructions at least three times

“We repeat important points a minimum of three times and also include them on discharge papers or the invoice,” says Dr. Moores. “IDEXX Cornerstone Practice Management Software allows us to automatically generate take-home instructions.”

Jane Barlow Roy, DVM, Weare Animal Hospital in Weare, New Hampshire, says, “We try to cover important information at least three times: once by the receptionist at check-in, again by the doctor in the exam room, and then again at checkout. We also encourage clients to ask questions throughout the exam and afterwards.”

2. Ensure consistency

“It doesn’t seem to matter how much time we take to explain discharge instructions to a client; they always seem to forget, or space out, during discharge,” notes Greene. “So, we email discharge instructions to clients for their review before they pick up their pet. Then we go over those same instructions at discharge. This also lets us answer any questions they may have come up with in the meantime.”

3. Take the time to educate clients to be sure they understand what’s going on

“I think it’s best to always be thorough in explaining all the rule-outs for a particular case and explaining what I am looking for through diagnostics,” says Aaron Knapp, DVM, Parkway Small Animal and Exotic Hospital in Clinton Township, Michigan. “I think these explanations help people understand that there isn’t always an easy answer and that there’s value in ruling out possible diseases through diagnostics.”

4. Demonstrate instructions, such as the proper way to administer medications or apply treatments

“Tell, show and send something home in writing,” says Sara Mark, DVM, Southwest Veterinary Hospital in Littleton, Colorado. “And call the next day to clarify questions on a complicated issue.”

In addition, tools like IDEXX Pet Health Network 3D let you share vivid three-dimensional animations and instructional home care videos in the examination room.

5. Write things down for clients to take home with them

“I always tell clients, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember this.  I’m going to write it all down for you in the discharge instructions so you can reference it later,’” says Andrea Honigmann, DVM, AVETS in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. “It saves the clients the stress of remembering the little details, but also it serves as part of the medical record if there is any question later as to what I said.”

“We also create discharge instructions that clients can take with them,” notes Dr. Roy. “The written instructions have greatly improved compliance at home.”

Greene also suggests asking clients what method of communication they prefer. “If they want quicker drop-offs and pick-ups, email and text messages may be options.”

Repetition, consistency, clarity, demonstration and written instructions can all help minimize misunderstandings and confusion. Taking the time up front to ensure successful client communication reduces frustration and saves time for everyone involved, but most important, it helps ensure your patients receive the best possible care.

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