Veterinary appointments – 16 ways to become more effective

There is definitely an art to consulting. It’s all very well knowing the science of veterinary medicine, but if you can’t communicate your knowledge and skills to the owner and patient, your job becomes so much harder. Understanding how to approach the consultation and use the time you have available effectively requires skill, practice and patience.

Posted: 12 November 2019

Veterinary appointments – 16 ways to become more effective

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Today’s clients are very different to those of 20 years ago. The internet and social media have changed everything, allowing owners to be so much better informed. We also have busier lives and tighter budgets. Rather than just accepting what the vet says and recommends, owners will check estimates in greater detail and question the charges you make. You’ll even find them refusing additional services if they feel they’re unnecessary.

In this article, we have 16 ideas to help you perform the perfect consultation.

  1. Always allocate – it helps to assign a particular vet and nurse before the client arrives. When booking the appointment, get the receptionist to find out as much as possible about the complaint, and try to book with the most appropriate clinician. Tell the client who they will see, so that when they arrive, they know who to expect and why.
  2. Check the notes – don’t call a client into the consulting room without reading the history. Check previous vaccinations, illnesses, major events and comments. By finding out as much about the animal and owner in advance you’ll feel in control, show confidence and avoid surprises.
  3. Don’t be nameless – use the owner and animal names from the start. You’ll not only show that you know who they are but will also give them respect which will be reciprocated. Make sure you also know the sex of the animal. Most pets are loving members of the family, and there’s nothing worse than calling a female ‘him’ or ‘it’. Everyone in the practice should try to do this, from the receptionists to the practice manager.
  4. Interrogate the diary – look at the diary beforehand so you’ll know in advance who’s coming. Great receptionists will know the art of naming the animal as it walks into the waiting room. If the diary has a Mrs. Smith with a Boxer called Ben booked at 11am, then it’s reasonable to assume that the Boxer arriving at 10.55 is indeed Ben. The best receptionists and vets will greet the client with something like “good morning Mrs Smith, this must be Ben”. This simple greeting will make the client feel welcome and confident in the practice.
  5. Identify the problem early – small talk is great for a few minutes, but time is usually limited, so make sure you identify the problem early and get down to business. It’s also worth making a note of the primary complaint in the history. Any follow up consultations, especially by other clinical staff within the team, will always be able to refer back to the original problem. 
  6. Keep talking – it’s vitally important to avoid awkward silences, so make sure you talk during the examination. Explain what you’re looking for, and explain what you see, hear, smell and touch. Most owners want to know that they’ve made a good decision to visit you for advice. After all, they’re allowing you to make decisions about their family pet and authorising you to spend their hard-earned money.
  7. Explain your thinking – as you make decisions on treatments, explain your thinking in as much detail as possible. Discuss the probability of each differential diagnosis, together with how you aim to make and confirm a diagnosis.  
  8. Every case is unique - beware of approaching all cases in the same way. Not all owners want the same, and not everyone can afford everything you offer. The client’s particular circumstances must be taken into consideration, so be careful not to run unnecessary tests and alienate the person paying the bills.
  9. Your recommendations cost money — be precise, accurate and compassionate in your recommendations. Perhaps consider splitting treatment up over time or in some cases offering more than one treatment option. Some owners may only want the most affordable option.
  10. Don’t try to shame the client – even if you would prefer to use the ‘Gold’ standard approach, with x-rays, blood tests, MRI and referral, remember that if a less aggressive approach is also suitable, there should be no attempt to shame the client. Their financial and family situations may be very different to yours and embarrassing them will make them less likely to seek help.
  11. Produce a detailed estimate – once you’ve made a choice with the client, always insist that they check the estimate carefully. Do this face to face, and go through it with them, explaining everything. It’s better to break the bad news of fees before you spend their money, and it’s better to do this in the consulting room rather than in the open reception area.
  12. Always follow up – remember to book recheck appointments, and if the client is unable to attend, follow up the consultation with a telephone call. You could even use letters and e-mail as well. For a personal touch on a difficult case, make sure the follow up contact is from the vet in charge.
  13. Start on time – it’s always frustrating to be sitting in the waiting room knowing that the vet is delayed. Try as much as possible to be on time. Look ahead at the diary and be vigilant of those extra busy sessions. If necessary, start a little early to give yourself some leeway.
  14. 10 or 15 minutes – the debate has gone on for years, but the reality is that slightly longer appointments are nearly always better. Any less than this and you’re rushing and will miss out on some opportunities.
  15. Double appointments – encourage your reception team to book double appointments if more than one animal is coming, especially if more than one condition is mentioned. By booking the time in advance, you’ll have the time to consider the details of the case properly.
  16. Don’t do it all – we’ve all been overworked, running late and stressed at the sight of the waiting room filling up. When this happens, don’t try to do everything there and then. In the ideal world you may want to take a blood sample or perform a simple skin scraping during the consultation, but it’s not always appropriate. Ask for help from the nursing team or book another appointment. Try not to feel guilty and don’t try to do everything at the first appointment.

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