Good bedside manner is one of the most important skills that a veterinary professional can possess. Your ability to convey confidence and compassion to your clients is key to building a solid client base. It’s true that you can be a successful clinician, save lives, perform technical services and diagnose rare diseases without good bedside manner, but your job will likely be a lot easier if you have a sparkling personality, especially in companion animal medicine. What can you do to help your patients feel comfortable?
Here’s a quick list to help you out
Know your clients and patients by name
It means a lot to your clients when you know who they are and you know their pet. Bonus points if you can pronounce their names properly. Don’t be afraid to ask the first time you meet a client to clarify the pronunciation and then, and this step is critical, write it down phonetically in the record. This way, the next time you see the client you can pronounce everything correctly. If there is a special meaning behind the pet’s name you can record that too. Your pet’s name is Pancake Bob? That sounds like a great story.
Knowing whether or not your patient is a girl or a boy is a super big sticking point for pretty much every client. It’s funny because your patient is unlikely to notice if you misspeak, but recognizing that you’ve read the chart enough to know the sex of your patient is a small way to let the client know that you care.
Likes and dislikes
Knowing the preferences of your patients can really help to make them comfortable during a visit. What kind of treats does the dog like as a distractor for vaccinations? This cat likes a towel on the exam table and this older dog really appreciates a yoga mat to help him stand up on the slippery floor. If a pet is sensitive about his feet being touched, or doesn’t like his ears looked at or freaks out for temperatures it’s a good thing to write down for next time. You can even write how a pet is best handled for blood draws or nail trims. All of these things can make a visit more smooth for your patient the next time. At my last clinic we even had alerts for the clients. For example, client is allergic to cats or peanut butter, please avoid room 3 previous pet euthanized in that room, or client is claustrophobic please leave door open. These small touches make your clients feel special.
Make it comfy
Trying to make a situation more comfortable for your patients will hopefully help to make for a less stressful appointment. Using pheromone diffusers and sprays in the room, in the cat carrier or even on your lab coat can help to ease your patient’s nerves. If possible consider have cat only exam rooms or waiting areas.
Know what kind of restraint works best for each patient
It would be awesome if all of our patients loved being examined but they don’t. Take note if less is more, or what size muzzle fits best, better with the owner vs better away from the owner.
Explain treatment options
A large part of having good bedside manner is having good client communication skills. Take time to explain treatment to clients, give them estimates and give them options. Don’t be judgmental. Listen to your clients concerns. Most people just want to feel heard. It’s very important to be an advocate for your patient, but just about every patient is attached to an owner and you have to think about their needs too. Try to think of yourselves as a collaborative team.
Find something to relate to with the client
More often than not, just complimenting the client on how cute or well behaved the pet is will be enough. And to be honest some people really don’t like to chit chat. But anything you can do to help break the ice may make them feel more at ease with you. Do you love the same sports team? Listen to the same music? Also do triathlons? Enjoy bargain shopping? Go LARPing on the weekends? As you get to know your clients, don’t be afraid to bond over issues other than veterinary medicine.
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