Today’s Veterinary Business Staff
Being bitten or scratched by a dog or cat is a common occurrence in a veterinary practice. Dealing with pet owners who lash out is part of the job, too, unfortunately.
A British Veterinary Association survey found that 85 percent of veterinarians reported that they or a team member had felt intimidated by a client’s language or behavior. Moreover, veterinarians who were younger or female were more likely to experience intimidation.
The friction often originates over money. Ninety percent of veterinarians reported that they or a team member had been challenged over fees or charges. In addition, 98 percent of practitioners revealed that “at some time they feel under pressure from clients to waive fees or to accept the promise of late payment,” the BVA stated.
BVA President John Fishwick, MA, VetMB, DCHP, DECBHM, offered a suggestion for dodging conflict over veterinary fees.
“These figures emphasize the importance of managing expectations around fees by ensuring a two-way discussion about options and costs so clients can make a decision in collaboration with the veterinary team,” he said.
Sam Morgan, president of the British Veterinary Nursing Association, wasn’t surprised by the survey results.
“Working within practice, we have all either been subject to or witnessed that difficult client, but we must remember any form of harassment is unacceptable,” Morgan said. “It’s important not to feel alone in these situations and to ensure there is awareness and support throughout the veterinary team.”
The BVA and the British Veterinary Nursing Association provided these tips for dealing with intimidation:
- Try to remain calm; be confident but never aggressive.
- Personal safety is the highest priority. If you feel intimidated by a client, try to not be alone with the person. If you cannot immediately resolve the situation and you are concerned about your safety, politely ask the client to leave. If you see other team members facing difficult clients, do not leave them alone; remain within sight so you can get more help or step in and support them.
- Discuss with colleagues any difficult situation you encountered with a client. Consider how well you handled the situation: what you did well and what you could have done better. Work together to have a practice policy on how to deal with intimidating situations.
- Inform the hospital manager or owner so appropriate practice-level steps can be taken.
- Use clear messaging within the practice that harassment and violence will not be tolerated. Clients should be made aware of what unacceptable behavior means.
- Remember that clients’ bad behavior can arise for different reasons, including distress associated with an ill pet. A situation may be diffused if clients are permitted to express all their concerns and then the veterinary professional actively listens and reflects the concerns back at the client. Clients may need to be reassured that “they’ve made the right decision” or “we’re doing everything we can.”