Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
Veterinary nurses have always assumed a vital role in client communication, so they’re commonly the primary contact after a pet owner’s arrival and throughout the visit. When you consider that many veterinary nurses start the visit in the exam room, assist the doctor throughout the exam and ultimately finish up with the client, it’s not unusual for them to spend more time interacting with the pet and its owner than the doctor does. As a result, they build relationships and trust.
Here’s why it’s essential that veterinary nurses hone their communication skills and embrace new ways to share information.
New Ways of Doing Things
No veterinary team will succeed when communication and teamwork are lacking. The last two years of the pandemic taught us the importance of thinking on our feet, adapting to rapid change, and implementing new and developing technology to enhance and streamline information gathering and sharing. For example, the rapid development of patient intake and drop-off platforms allowed teams to quickly obtain information from clients and share it with other departments. Clients were skeptical about staying in their cars and communicating virtually, but the protocols ultimately were accepted as the new normal. Moving from predominantly in-person communication to a virtual model was difficult, but the hurdle was primarily cleared by enhanced team interaction and new workflows. These new processes should continue as we allow clients back into the hospital.
Utilize the systems and communication platforms that work best for your practice to improve workflow and increase efficiency. These include:
- Pre-visit questionnaires sent by email or a direct web link.
- Text or direct messaging for client and intrahospital communication.
- Text-to-pay options for clients.
- Video chat.
Veterinary nurses should share their knowledge and expertise with clients. Engage clients when talking about their pets’ needs. Whether it’s a conversation in the exam room or about a treatment plan, pet owners will have questions and concerns. The better they understand what a veterinary nurse recommends, the more likely they will accept the advice and approve treatment.
Veterinary nurses have daily opportunities to help a client understand which services are needed and why. The discussion can focus on the pet and the benefits of wellness plans, preventive care, good oral health and end-of-life services. This enhanced level of communication and customer service is what sets practices apart.
One of a veterinary nurse’s most important and valuable tasks is to help clients understand the medication being dispensed and the treatments they are asked to perform at home. It isn’t enough to just hand over the drugs and discharge instructions and assume the pet owner understands the whys and hows. Never assume that clients understand everything we tell them because many aren’t comfortable asking questions. We need to demonstrate. A little show and tell goes a long way and is a golden opportunity to bond with the client and share your expertise.
Consider a cat being discharged after an abscess repair. He is certain to leave with antibiotics and an e-collar and likely has a wound that needs treatment at home. A demonstration on administering the antibiotics followed by a lesson on wound care and e-collar use is essential. As a result, the client will be less stressed about providing the care at home, and the pet will get the needed medications and treatments. This enhanced level of care and communication also is critically important for pets sent home with eye or ear medication, which are among the most difficult for clients to administer correctly. Compliance and client satisfaction will increase dramatically if you can build a few minutes into the discharge process to provide more communication, support and guidance.
The next step in client communication is the follow-up call, which veterinary nurses are in the perfect position to provide. Any pet that left with medication or had any anesthesia, surgery, outpatient treatment or procedure warrants a next-day call. This is the perfect opportunity to confirm that the pet is doing well and receiving the necessary treatments and medications. It’s also the time to answer any client questions.
Clients will appreciate the check-in, especially when it includes inquiries about the pet’s comfort, at-home treatments or medication administration. If things are not going well, the practice can advise the client to bring back the pet or change drugs or treatments.
Keep in mind that the relationship doesn’t end when a client leaves your hospital. Continue the conversation and nurture the bond.
DID YOU KNOW?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average number of full-time-equivalent veterinary nurses working in a small animal practice in 2019 was 5.1.