Communication, Compassion and Compliance
We have all heard that the majority of lawsuits in the medical industry occur due to lack of understanding between the doctor and the patient. Often it occurs due to lack of empathy for the client and the perception that the doctor doesn’t care about the patient or situation which occurred. Open, honest, and thorough communication between a veterinarian and a pet owner is crucial. Through good client communication, the owner will gain trust in your care and ability to treat their pet and will be more compliant.
We want to make sure that the client hears and understands what we are telling them. Communicating in a clear, empathetic, and understanding way can make all the difference in being an effective communicator. Communication involves the entire veterinary staff and begins the moment the client calls to schedule their appointment. What this really boils down to is making the client feel important and feel that their pet is a priority to you and your staff. As a veterinarian, you need to help educate your staff on ways they can help the hospital achieve client satisfaction and increase compliance.
1. Greet the client by name
By greeting the client and the pet by name, it sets a tone of acceptance from the beginning. You are welcoming them into your hospital; from wellness to sick visits, it shows that you care about them. If they have a difficult to pronounce name, go ahead and write how to say in phonetically in the computer system/chart.
2. Give them a why
Don't just give orders. Make the client understand why something is necessary. Whether it is compliance with giving medications at home, returning for follow-up blood work, or deciding to go forward with a dental cleaning, people are more willing to comply when they understand exactly why these things are important for the health of their pet.
3. Make it personal
Do what you can to engage the client. Try to find a common interest by commenting on the team sports apparel they are wearing, or commenting on their cute shoes or simply make a big deal about how well behaved their pet is during the visit.
Whether you are explaining a procedure or going over discharge instructions, use the patient’s name: “It is really important that you return for lab work to check Charlie’s kidney function in two weeks.”
Always use the correct gender. This can make or break an appointment. Some people are very offended if you call their girl dog a "good boy" during he appointment (even if the dog has a traditional boy's name) so get it straight before you walk into the exam room.
4. Educate the client
Client handouts are very helpful. In the exam room, the client will only remember a small portion of what you explain to them. They will understand more if they have some materials to read after they get home. All of the information we are providing can be overwhelming.
5. Use appropriate terminology
Instead of saying “estimate”, say “treatment plan”. It makes the client feel that this is a treatment plan for their pet, and not as focused on the financial aspect. It is important, however, that every client receive a treatment plan (estimate) for services before they are performed.
Also, use appropriate terminology for your audience. You just spent that last 8 years learning scientific language but you may need to scale it back for some, if not most of your clients
6. Perform follow up calls
Call to check on the pet the following day after their visit. This is a good time to remind the client of follow up recommendations after they have had time to read their handouts and reflect upon their visit. Also, it shows that you care about their pet. The receptionist can often perform this duty and then can report to you if there are any issues with the patient.
Reminder calls for lab work are helpful too. If you recommend a follow up renal profile in 3 months, put them in the schedule for a reminder call to let the client know that the pet is now due for the lab work. Everyone gets busy, and it is easy to forget a follow up without a reminder.
Use open-ended questions and then allow your clients to answer your questions. You can learn a lot about what they are upset about if you give them a chance to voice their concerns. Follow up with active listening skills by repeating what they said to make sure they know that yo understand what they are confused or worried about.
Put yourself in the client’s position. Treat them the way you wish to be treated when you are seeking care for yourself or your children. This helps clients feel comfortable and thus makes them more compliant and more likely to return to your hospital. Compassion is really the key to gaining trust.
9. Always be honest
Unfortunately, medical mistakes can and do happen despite all of our efforts to prevent them. The most important thing is to always document in the medical record exactly what happened and let the owner know the situation immediately. Never, ever, try to cover up any medical mistakes. If and when a mistake occurs, be a professional and do your best to remedy the situation – and be honest with the client.
10. Don't forget about non-verbal communication
Are you crossing your arms? Are you rolling your eyes? Do you have your hand on the door as the owner is asking you a really important question? Use body language to convey that you care and that you are listening.
It takes practice to be a good communicator and a great team to achieve compliance but taking the time to learn these skills is worth it, your patients will thank you!
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