• Jackie Schletter

Short and Sweet; Doctors, Call Your Clients and Interact with Discharges

Veterinarians need to call their clients in a timely manner, after surgery, and they need to make an appearance in (and sometimes actually spearhead) surgical discharges.

I am reallyyyy passionate about this subject. Warning - the following is straight talk, no candy coating :-)

I am all for utilizing every talent your veterinary team brings to the table. However, if you want to create perception of value, the veterinarians need to step up their game and let the clients hear their voices and have the opportunity to ask questions related to procedures/surgery. It doesn't matter how qualified your staff is with phone communication or how well they complete discharges, they are not the doctor. They do not have your presence, and they do not have your brain pan full of quick, knowledgeable responses to questions. They simply can not make the same impression.

If you are a doctor and you think you don't have time to call clients or step in to surgical discharges, I urge you to reconsider.

For me, this is just client care common sense. I see the idea reaffirmed in reviews as well; clients comment how nice it was to hear from the doctor! Our human world has made calls from nurses and PA's a routine alternative to hearing from our physicians. I'm not sure this is a good thing. In fact, my human doctor does call me and when I tell friends this, they all want his name. His wait list for new patients is a mile long. Hmmmm.

In fact, what I have seen first hand is practices that acquire a large percentage of new clients from referrals have highly interactive veterinarians. Clients talk about the doctor. If the clients do not interact with a veterinarian, why in the world should they refer to them? I've said this a thousand times ....

Veterinary medicine is about people. We bond with people through their pets.

I think we underestimate the worry and unspoken fear clients have when they leave their pets with us to undergo an anesthetic procedure. They spend an entire morning, sometimes longer, just waiting to hear that everything went well. The voice that reassures them surgery is over and the pet is in recovery/has recovered should be that of the doctor. People in general know/assume a doctor's day is very busy. Therefore, when a doctor takes the time to call or sit in on a discharge, they have subtlety stated that the client and their pet was a priority.

Consider this: A client brings Snoopy in for a dental/mass removal. Snoopy is checked in by a technician, the client signs all the paperwork and is told they will receive a call when surgery is over. Surgery complete, tech calls Snoopy's dad to say all went well, how about a 4pm discharge? Four o'clock arrives, technician reviews procedure, dental x-rays, discusses meds and post op care with Snoopy's dad. He leaves and pays the bill in excess of $1000. Client never interacted with the veterinarian. What part of this interaction built loyalty to the doctor or the practice? What did the doctor do to show appreciation of the trust, or dollars spent? True story.

Even if the doctor called post surgery (and he/she should be the person to call), he/she should at least pop in to the room and make an appearance at discharge even when a trusted tech has things well in hand. Please don't tell me you don't have time, and please don't tell me you're worried about getting stuck in the room with chatty clients.

Try this - "Hi Mr. Smith. I'm Dr. Luvyourpet. Jane is going to discharge Snoopy today but I wanted to stop in and let you know I'm really pleased with our results. Jane is the best, but if there is something she can't answer she'll come find me to clarify any questions before you go." This is a respectful and professional way to treat a client that placed trust in you and paid you well for your services. If you have a couple of minutes, shoot the breeze for brownie points.

Surgery that requires extensive follow up, a specialist, ongoing care or that was complex/life threatening should be led by a doctor.

The follow up call the next day is the cherry on the discharge sundae and can be done by front desk or technical staff. Personally I like techs to call back surgeries and complex medical cases next day if that is possible.

Finally, let's talk phone calls. A veterinarian says, "I can't call back every client that calls." Another true story. If I had a screaming emoji I would insert it here.

Yes, they can call back every client. Doctors can certainly have staff call back on simple requests or questions, but when a client says they want to speak to a doctor, a doctor should get on the phone.

I love "admin time" for staff to complete duties unrelated to seeing clients, and doctors need this time too. Pick a good time block for your practice so the team can relay to clients when the doctor can call back. This way, they can say "Ms. Smith, I'll relay this question to Dr. Luvyourpet. She usually returns calls between 1pm-2pm".

Here is a secret - the doctor will field less questions on a case, as will the staff, if the doctor would speak with the client at the onset of the issue thus eliminating the need for further calls and messages. Another more important secret - staff members do not respect doctors that complain about calling clients and they do not respect doctors that do not return calls since the team will at some point hear from the client again and start inventing excuses as to why the doctor did not call back.

Nothing makes a staff member happier than knowing his/her veterinarian will do what was told to the client. So, doctors can earn staff and client respect by finding a way to increase your phone and discharge presence and follow up with clients. Win-Win.

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