The art of client communication as a veterinarian
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Isn't it funny how SO many vet students say they went into vet med because they do not like people and prefer animals? I always giggle when I hear that because hello.....there are humans attached to our cute patients.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Communication is an art. You can be an inherently good communicator, but you have to practice to be excellent. The ideal conversation between a client and veterinarian is one filled with respect, active listening, empathy, and good body language. At VETS ON THE RISE, we believe communication is the most important skill for a new veterinarian to work on. Let's be honest, there is something to be said about a good conversation. It makes a busy day run smoother and increases job satisfaction.
One of the top client complaints in veterinary medicine centers around poor communication.
As you can imagine, an upset client is going to take a toll on you. An upset client is more likely to write a bad review, complain to your manager, or submit a claim for malpractice. Happy clients will do the opposite. You will have better job satisfaction, less work stress, and reduce burn out.
So, how do you keep your clients happy and satisfied? Unfortunately, you will never be able to make everyone happy, but you can control your side of the conversation. We want you to be aware of this early on in your career so that you can make it a top priority. Communication will be a skill you must master. Think of it as your super power. If you are a good communicator, the rest of the job will come easy with time.
So, how do you master this vet super power? We are here to provide you with stories, NEW VET BURNS, tips, programs, and books that are all dedicated to making you a well rounded doctor. Now, let's dig into some of the basics of communication with a few fun stories sprinkled in!
"There is nothing quite like hearing yourself fumble through communicating a medical topic to an owner for the first time."
Let's talk the first time Monica tried to communicate Mitral Valve Disease to an owner. It was cringeworthy and so much harder than she thought. You truly do not appreciate the experience until it is your turn in the exam room and all eyes are on you... ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
In your role as a doctor, you actually spend all day communicating: communicating to clients, techs, receptionists, etc. So, you better believe you are going to need to be good at it. It is something that we both can talk about for hours because we have found that COMMUNICATING WELL CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR DAY. Because of this, we prioritize it in our practice and self development. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
When you are an effective communicator, here are a few things you will be able to do:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
1. Gain the trust of your clients. Trust = bigger wins for your patients.⠀
2. Manage difficult situations or clients with grace. You are often able to decompress situations and get farther with your care for your patients.⠀
3. You will find that your days run smoother with less call backs about instructions or follow up plans because you already went through the plan with the owner and your team who is now able to field your calls more effectively at length.⠀⠀
4. Your team will work better together, and your patients will thrive because of it. Good communication (and the humility to admit when you are wrong and commit to improvement) is necessary for good teamwork.
5. You will have better job satisfaction, less burn out, and less work stress.
Some people are naturals at communication, but most are not. Just like with leadership, communication is a skill that is learned. Similar to other skills, the more you study and practice, the better you get. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
When we started out as new vets, we had some learning to do with regards to communicating well with clients. There are so many examples of things we would do wrong...
being excited and loud as we walked into exam rooms startling our patients...
not listening and cutting people off... 🤦🏻♀️🤦♀️
poor explanations of concepts to owners...
and the list goes on!
Now, we consider ourselves excellent communicators in the exam room. So, what changed? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Well, we learned the basics of exam room etiquette and communication (the hard way). We want to share some pointers with you right here to help YOU better connect with your clients and your team.
Exam room basics⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
1. Recognize that YOU set the tone for the room. As the doctor, every room you walk into, YOU will be the one setting the vibe. If you are flustered, in a bad mood, or rushed, that is going to influence the way the appointment feels for that pet and that client.
2. Make eye contact. If there is more than one person in the room, make eye contact with each of them as you talk. This is one of the main ways we can connect with our clients. This conveys that you hear them, shows mutual respect, and that you care about what they are saying.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
3. Have open and receptive body language. Avoid crossing your arms, and do not hunch over. Instead, hands by your side or in pockets if you are fidgety. Face the client and maintain eye contact. We also recommend getting eye level. This is easy to do by either sitting on a chair or the floor. While some older vets do not like the idea of sitting on the floor, we feel it makes us more relatable.
4. Use opportunities to connect or relate when appropriate. If someone is expressing a frustration, you may say, "That sounds really frustrating Mrs. Jones. I would like to help you and Fluffy if I can. Here is what I think we should do..”⠀⠀
5. Summarize. You are going to cover a lot of information. Good communication gets lost in the details. Always end your appointment by summarizing the important points to ensure the client understands the plan as well as when you want to see them next.
Ok, so the above many seem basic. However, understanding and perfecting your body language, tone, and delivery will serve you well. The next important area to focus on is communicating the physical exam and diseases to your owner. We both had some awkward fumbling of translating our science heavy vocabulary into layman's terms that our clients could understand. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Ashley can think of MANY times on her emergency shifts where she struggled to communicate difficult diseases. Do not even get her started on her first case of IMHA. She completely overwhelmed the guy and just could not figure out how to explain the differentials and disease process. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
We spend vet school learning our "million dollar words," and in clinics we are all used to communicating with clinicians, residents, and interns. There is not much practice focused on the client piece. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
So, how do you work on this? Let's talk TIPS!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
✔ Read any client handouts on the disease before you go into the room to see how it is explained.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
✔ Ask a fellow colleague or google synonyms used to describe a term more simply (examples: lysis - destruction, e-collar - cone, perforation - leaking). These words seem simple, but many clients do not understand.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
✔ Pretend like you are explaining something to a 13 year old. This sounds "too simple" but this mindset shift will help guide your thought process better.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
✔ Pause every couple sentences when the material gets dense (our "chunk then check") because clients will tell you when they do not understand (and just ask if they do not!). Make notes in your phone of diseases or topics you struggle to explain, and then work on a better word to guide you next time.
Now, we want to delve into the communication approach that has worked best for us.
𝑳𝒂𝒅𝒊𝒆𝒔 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒈𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒍𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒏, 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒔𝒆𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒕 𝒊𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒂 𝒄𝒍𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒄𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒆𝒅 𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒂𝒄𝒉. Oddly, our profession is considered a sales profession. Therefore, your focus is on the client so that you can work together as a team..listen to them, and do not have a one size fits all plan.
Look at it this way....If your client does not trust you or understand what you are saying, they may not make the best informed decision. They may stop listening to you or opt against your treatment plan.
Remember empathy and reflective listening? These words are your magic ingredients! Explain what is going on with their pet and use reflective listening to ensure they understand. This is crucial so that when you explain your diagnostic or treatment plan, they understand how it will help their pet. Always ask if they have any questions so far. Now, the most important part here is to work within the specific needs or abilities of the family. Always offer your best recommendation, but make sure you are on the same page financially. Use finances, household dynamics, and their beliefs/goals to guide your client to the best plan.
There is nothing worse than having a client agree to a diagnostic, only to find out they cannot afford treatment. This has burned both of us where we spent $300 on exam and diagnostics, and then were unable to treat the pet appropriately.
We are advocates for the pets first, and in order to do this, you have to find common ground with the client. Practice our simple formula above and understand that the key to its success is having an open and straightforward conversation with the owner. Ashley wrote a book called "Becoming a Millennial Veterinarian" that has an entire chapter dedicated to exam room interactions. Check it out on Amazon if you want even more details on this subject!
We know you can communicate. You got this far! You have the basics down, but now you need to become a lifelong student of this art. It takes time to get there, and you will...we promise. We know that the best way to feel good about your job is to have satisfied clients. We are here to help you have clients that feel confident in you.
Stay tuned for our book releasing in October and program coming out in 2021, which are both focused on getting you DAY ONE READY!!!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀