Perceived inadequate communication is the number 1 cause for investigations into unprofessional conduct and represents 90% of cases.
Investigations into unprofessional conduct in the veterinary profession are often the result of communication breakdown. Despite the best veterinary care, clinical cases may not always have good outcomes. Bad outcomes combined with poor communication can lead to complaints. Complaints can be emotionally and physically stressful to veterinary professionals causing one to question their process of care. A Vetgirlontherun survey showed that 86% of respondents said they receive client complaints at least once every few months with 71.7% of respondents reported feeling depressed as a result of their client complaint and 77.2% reporting that it affected their job satisfaction. Risks surround veterinary professionals every day but recognizing that the greatest risk is poor communication can help veterinarians implement processes to protect themselves and their practice.
There are a number of factors that lead to communication breakdown:
Here are 10 steps to help meet or exceed clients expectations and prevent complaints.
Avoid veterinary jargon and use everyday language to explain the pet's condition. Use visual aids and offer handouts to help with comprehension. Regularly ask open-ended questions to gauge comprehension and directly ask the client if they understand.
Studies show that healthcare providers allow clients to explain their problem for an average of 11 seconds before interrupting them. Yet, the doctor-client conversation and patient history is extremely important in determining the diagnosis. Allowing the client to feel comfortable in explaining their concerns and using open-ended questions to delve into the problem will help demonstrate your care.
In human medicine, the more likeable the doctor, the more likely you are to believe you are receiving high-quality care.
It is estimated that over 60% of pet owners consider their pets as family members.
These highly bonded customers have significantly greater expectations when it comes to the care they receive.
Showing genuine care for a pet will create customers that are more forgiving should an unexpected event occur.
If you don't know the answer to the question, don't have a diagnosis or the skills to perform the task, then discuss the options available to the client even if this means a referral. Telling a client that you spoke with a veterinary oncologist to get the best plan for cancer treatment or that you got a 2nd opinion on the radiographs, builds trust.
Pet owners only take in 40% of what is said in a consultation. If veterinary teams do not supplement their recommendations with digital health summaries, it encourages pet owners to seek potentially harmful information on the internet or even seek health services elsewhere. Sharing trusted pet health information from your practice gives the clients more in depth knowledge of their pet's illness, treatment plan, duration of treatment and expected outcomes.
Tanja Mimica BSc MBA, an experienced practice manager and past operations manager of a large veterinary corporate, agrees that "customer complaints are time consuming and stressful."
"I have dealt with a lot of client complaints and I can honestly say that 95% are not due to inadequate patient care. The vast majority of client complaints arise because the client's expectations have not been met, and the reason their expectations haven't been met is because they were never set in the first place. This also comes back to communication. So, to prevent client complaints, set clear expectations every step of the way. An example of this is ear problems - I have had many clients complain after their third or fourth revisit for a reoccuring ear infection. If they were told that ear infections can take a long time to treat, that they will likely need to come back to the practice multiple times, that they'll be charged a revisit fee each time and that despite your best efforts, the infection may reoccur, these complaints can be avoided."
The recent changes in the Californian drug legislation is a timely reminder of the importance of giving pet owners all the information they need about their medication prescription. Sharing drug profile information sheets help reiterate your recommendations on how to medicate, when to medicate and the potential side effects to look out for.
Informed consent is essential. Pet owners should have a full understanding of the risks and complications e.g. the spinal surgery may lead to paralysis or the general anesthesia on rare occasions may result in death. This should be given as a verbal and written explanation. Written client communications should be easy to read, use minimal veterinary terms, be no longer than a page, cover key home care instructions (feeding, restrictions, medications etc) and detail what to look out for or what to expect. Digital communications are easier and more convenient for customers to refer back to or share with all family members.
Pet healthcare doesn't stop at the practice. Pet owners are more proactive than before. Providing clients with the holistic approach to their pet’s health is not only good medicine, but good for the pet’s long term quality of life. Sharing home care compliance videos e.g. brushing teeth or passive motion exercises are great ways to get pet owners involved with home care.
90% of pet owners want to know about all the health care options for their pets, regardless of cost. Not offering pet owners all the potential treatment available to them is also cause for complaint to the board. We as a profession should not make pre-judgement that the pet owner cannot afford certain tests or treatments.
Showing that you care about the patient and increasing accessibility to trusted pet health information can help build stronger client relationships
In this digital age, convenience is everything. Sharing digital health information allows for convenient viewing and recall and this can be achieved with VetCheck pet health reports with a 99% open rate. With the millennial pet owner being the fastest growing pet owning market, it is important for practices to engage with this market through technology. 70% of pet owning millennials look for access to their pet's digital pet health records when they choose their pet’s healthcare provider.