Columns , Leadership

Make surgery an exceptional experience

Top-notch communication and protocols will wow clients and ensure the best possible care of their pets.

Make surgery an exceptional experience
Preparing for patient discharge is just as important as preparing for admission. You need protocols in place to ensure a smooth process for the client, patient and team.

Veterinary technicians play a vital role in providing clients and patients with the ultimate surgery room experience. In fact, every employee who has contact with the client or the patient should understand what is involved from first touch to last.

Surgery and anesthesia top the list of procedures that require our best effort in communication. Whether their pet is admitted for a routine spay/neuter, a dental or major surgery, we must provide clients with as much information as possible throughout the process.


Communicating the treatment plan is the first step in making sure a client understands the recommendations and why they are important. Treatment plans should be communicated in such a way that the client understands all the options and is able to make an informed decision to proceed.

Avoid vet speak. This is particularly important when the treatment plan includes diagnostics and medications. Take the time to explain all aspects to clients and allow them to ask questions. All foreseeable charges should be explained and accepted before the procedure is scheduled.

Clearly communicate your preanesthetic diagnostics, anesthetic monitoring protocols, pain-control protocols, hospitalization and nursing care. The time you spend doing this will be what sets you apart from the competition. If preanesthetic lab work is required, collect the sample then so that the client will not have to make an extra trip before the surgery.

Other steps include:

  • Call the client a day or two before the scheduled procedure to confirm the appointment. Give preoperative instructions such as feeding requirements and drop-off time.
  • Make sure the chart and any needed forms are ready when the client and patient arrive. Efficiency is key.
  • The technician or someone from the surgery team should greet the client, admit the pet to the hospital and address any questions or concerns.
  • Obtain clients’ current contact information.
  • Schedule a discharge appointment before the client leaves.


How we prepare for a surgical procedure is an important step. A great surgeon once told me: “The client will never see what went on beneath the incision, so they will judge us by how their pet looks afterwards. If all they see is a puckered and bloody incision, an uneven shave or a wrinkled bandage or cast, they will assume we were just as careless in the surgical procedure.”

We may not have total control over how the incision comes together, but we do have control over the rest. Be precise with the clippers, even for procedures as routine as a spay or neuter. This includes the shave for the IV catheter, pain-control patches and monitoring devices. Take the time necessary to make sure that what the client sees is your best effort. The client will have to look at the surgery site for weeks as the hair grows back.

Also remember:

  • Make sure all shaves are straight, symmetrical and not excessive.
  • Maintain clippers and blades to avoid clipper burn, scrapes or cuts.
  • Follow your hospital’s patient care models with respect to anesthetic induction and monitoring.
  • Use a patient warming device during the procedure.
  • If complications arise or additional services are necessary, update the client immediately and ask for authorization of any additional charges.
  • Once surgery is complete and before the patient is awake, clean the incision and surrounding area. Remember to check for bloody tongues, lips and whiskers on a dental patient.
  • Provide pain control as needed. Patient comfort should be a priority.
  • Give a complimentary nail trim and list it on the invoice as such.
  • Contact the client to report how the procedure went and how the pet is doing.
  • If a discharge appointment was not set up, now is the time to do it.
  • Keep the patient warm, comfortable and under observation throughout the recovery process.


Now that the procedure is complete and the patient is recovering from anesthesia, make sure everything is as it should be. Preparing for patient discharge is just as important as preparing for admission. You need protocols in place to ensure a smooth process for the client, patient and team. This means scheduling the discharge so that you don’t try to fit it in between appointments.

Other considerations:

  • Post all charges to the client account before the scheduled discharge time.
  • Prepare medications that will go home with the pet.
  • Provide postoperative instructions and explain what the client can expect during the first few days. Clients will not remember everything you tell them, so written instructions are essential. Include incision care, bandage care, activity restrictions, feeding, medication and treatment instructions.
  • If an e-collar is warranted, don’t make it an option. Include it in the price of the procedure. Size the collar appropriately and demonstrate to the client how to put it on.
  • Bandage and cast wraps should be clean, uniform and wrinkle free.
  • Clean the patient again and brush it.
  • Handle the payment and discuss post-op instructions before the pet is brought out. You want the client’s full attention.
  • Schedule any recheck or follow-up appointments. Include post-op exams in the price of the procedure.
  • Demonstrate how to administer the medications, especially with feline or eye medications.
  • Use an exam room for discharge appointments rather than the reception area.
  • Help the client to the car. This is particularly important for orthopedic surgery cases. Clients will appreciate the effort, and you can make sure the pet is safely inside the vehicle.
  • Call the next day to make sure the pet is doing well and that medications have been administered as directed. Ask the client about any questions or concerns. Don’t forget to document the conversation in the medical record.
  • Immediately address any post-op issues or concerns.

Make It Memorable

Providing exceptional service goes hand in hand with exceptional medical care and involves the whole team every step of the way. Remember that most clients cannot differentiate the medicine from practice to practice. They can, however, differentiate their experience and the service they received. This is what will set your practice apart from your competition.

Follow these steps and you will be able to provide the ultimate surgery room experience for clients and their pets.

Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a practice management consultant, speaker, writer and instructor for Patterson Veterinary University.