The Top 10 Problems Veterinarians Face (and How to Solve Them)

by Sam D Meisler DVM

The life of a veterinarian is very rewarding, and you likely enjoy your career. Still, it does have its challenges. If you’re struggling with a specific problem or simply want to improve your practice, read on for the most common problems and how to solve them.

1. Angry Customers

Most pet owners are cordial when their pets are well, but the tables may turn when the news isn’t good. If you want to prevent angry customers, push the importance of veterinary preventive medicine and regular veterinary wellness checkups. When a customer’s emotions are heightened by stressful news, try to stay calm and comforting at all times.

2. Pricing

Pricing is a critical issue for veterinarians. If you price too high, your customers are disgruntled. If you price too low, however, your veterinary practice may suffer.

The trick is to find a competitive price that still pays your bills and your employee salaries, and leaves a little for savings. Review your pricing regularly and compare it with your net profit to determine the sweet spot for pricing.

3. Stress

Like most medical jobs, veterinarians deal with daily stress – and so do your employees. You can’t prevent stress completely, but you can manage it with regular breaks in a quiet room and shorter shifts for employees.

4. Disgruntled Employees

Every industry has the potential to upset its employees. Make sure you’re paying your employees what they’re worth, and keep your expectations reasonable. Most importantly, follow the proper procedures to keep your employees safe from diseases and injuries when working with animals.

5. Slow Cash Flow

Nearly all veterinary practices experience slow cash flow. To boost sales when cash is short, create special offers to entice new customers. You might offer a special for pets who are behind on immunizations or provide extra services for puppies and kittens.

6. Continued Education

Veterinary practice is a science, and science is changing constantly. Staying on top of trends and advancements isn’t always easy, but it’s important for your career. To make the job easier, consider learning as you work by watching videos or listening to podcasts.

7. Competition

You’ll face more competition than ever before, thanks to mobile clinics, mega pet stores and internet diagnoses. You can’t possibly defeat all the competition, but you can stay relevant by offering to match the prices of other clinics (when asked), advertising your strengths and focusing on one or more specialties.

8. Lack of Time

You’re probably busier than most people you know. Instead of just accepting that you’ll never have free time again, try to find ways to streamline your business. Maybe you could convert to digital records instead of paper, or perhaps you should hire additional support staff so you can focus on the most important aspects of your business. There are likely numerous ways to make your life easier if you brainstorm a bit.

9. Finding Great Employees

It’s a struggle for any business to find the best employees. To find yours, consider cutting your experience requirements, and focusing instead on finding people who love animals and can learn quickly. Once you find a great employee, do everything you can to keep them – it’s cheaper to retain employees than to find new ones.

10. Low Income Pet Owners

Some pet owners simply don’t have the funds to take care of their pets. It’s heartbreaking, but what can you do? You have your own bills to pay, and many of your customers can afford your services. Here’s one solution: You might offer your services at a reduced rate if your city leaders agree to fund a clinic that provides basic veterinary care to local residents. When it comes to larger treatments like surgeries, there are many financing companies with which you can partner. And if a low income, affordable clinic comes to town, embrace them rather than try to compete with them.

EasyDVM Practice Software is a cloud-based veterinary practice management software system. We pride ourselves in offering a system that is user-friendly, easy to learn for new team members, full-featured and elegant in its simplicity. Best of all, all devices, multiple users, all your clients and patients, always affordable.

Design Your Veterinary Practice Facility to Maximize Your Pet Patients’ Comfort

by Sam D Meisler DVM


When designing a veterinary practice, it is important to keep the comfort of patients in mind. Design choices that appeal to humans aren’t always the best for our four-legged friends, who can be very sensitive to sounds, temperature fluctuations, textures and colors. Use these design tips to make your pet patients feel more at home and reduce their anxiety over visiting the vet.


Some animals feel nervous in enclosed spaces. According to veterinary architect Wendy Wheeler Martinez, using light colors inside your practice can make spaces look bigger, which could help soothe pets’ anxiety. Light colors are a particularly good choice for ceilings, as they can visually push the ceiling away to make the room feel less claustrophobic.


Ideally, the floor of a veterinary practice will be easy to clean and maintain. Even house-trained pets can have accidents when they feel nervous about being in a new environment, so it’s important to choose a flooring type that wipes clean and doesn’t hold onto smells. Vinyl and rubber are both good choices, whereas installing carpet is likely to be a decision you regret. Other types of hard flooring, such as concrete or tiles, are also easy to clean, although pets might not find them as comfortable to walk on.


Background noise can be a big problem in some veterinary practices. Soften the noises of barking dogs and mewling cats by installing absorbent panels in noisy parts of your practice, such as the kennel area. Soundproofing your practice in this way can help to keep stress levels as low as possible among your patients.

Some veterinary practices choose to play music to cover background sounds and create a welcoming atmosphere for both humans and pets. Studies have shown that dogs in rescue shelters get more rest when they listen to classical music, reflecting human studies that show classical music reduces stress by relieving pain, lowering blood pressure, and slowing heart and breathing rates. Try using gentle classical music in your practice to put pet patients at their ease, but steer clear of noisy pop or rock music that could set four-legged visitors on edge.


Animals are very sensitive to heat. Unlike humans, who have a huge number of sweat glands covering their bodies, cats can only sweat through their paws, and dogs cool down by panting and sweating through their paws, which leaves them vulnerable to overheating. If the temperature in your veterinary practice is too high, you may notice your pet patients leaving wet footprints on the floor. During summer, use air conditioning and fans to create a cooling breeze and prevent overheating in your pet patients.

Overall Design

In general, it is a good idea to design your veterinary practice to be as homely as possible. Be sure to provide areas for dogs to sit or lie down in the waiting room, with drinking water available. By making design choices that turn a sterile building into a welcoming environment for your pet patients, you may be able to reduce their stress levels and help them cope more easily with the unfamiliar experience of visiting the vet. Of course, you also need to consider the practicality of your design choices; soft furnishings and carpets may not be the best choice, as you need the space to be easy to clean.

EasyDVM Practice Software is a cloud-based veterinary practice management software system. We pride ourselves in offering a system that is user-friendly, easy to learn for new team members, full-featured and elegant in its simplicity. Best of all, all devices, multiple users, all your clients and patients, always affordable.

3 Things to Consider When Starting a Veterinary Practice

by Sam D Meisler DVM

VeterinarianIf you’re planning on starting a veterinary practice — a million and one thoughts are likely racing through your head. Trust me, I know the feeling — but as long as you remain focused on the task at hand, everything will begin to fall into place.

Although highly specialized in terms of your objectives, opening your own practice needs to be viewed like any other business. In order to succeed, you’ll need to plan ahead and adjust your goals based on your evolving objectives.

If one thing is certain, you have an exciting journey ahead. As long as you break this one large (yet exciting) goal into smaller, more attainable steps, you’ll be well on your way.

First, you’ll need to consider the following…

There is no doubt that it takes a certain type of individual to start a veterinary practice. Although you may be a veterinary first and foremost, you also display key entrepreneur qualities — including a high level of passion and willingness to take educated risks.

Of course, your overall mission is to build a profitable business — but at the heart of it all, you will also want to build a practice that provides excellent service and quality medicine. In order to achieve these challenging, yet attainable goals, you’ll need to take a few key steps.

1. Write a business plan

Whether you’re opening a veterinary practice or a restaurant, every business owner needs to plan ahead. With only a loose strategy in place, how will you ever implement your current objectives? Begin to ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • What is my core mission and how will I achieve success?
  • What will I offer my clients — and more importantly, who will my clients be?
  • What will be my edge over the competition?
  • How will I market my new practice and what will my sales strategy be?

If you are looking for ideas and some key examples, the Australian Veterinary Practice Management Association offers a thorough guide that you can check out here.

2. Establish your location and team

When choosing a location, you need to think about the current demand. This will be one of the most important considerations in terms of sustainable success. Also, make sure you do some market research. Find out more about the local demographics, so you can find a location that will meet the needs of your target market.

When it comes to your team, think about not only your immediate staff, but also the professionals who will provide key services. In most cases, a new veterinary practice will require assistance from experts such as a local attorney, an insurance representative, a financial advisor and even a strategic mentor who has already taken this exciting journey.

3. Seek funding opportunities

Right now, you need to make a list that includes all of your start-up requirements. Some examples include:

  • Legal services
  • Rent
  • Equipment
  • Systems for bookkeeping, scheduling, etc.
  • Promotion
  • Initial operating costs

You need to be practical in terms of your expenses and projected cash flow. To begin, prepare a 12-month projection. Estimate your potential revenue, expenses, debt financing and your minimum salary.

Next, explore all of your options — including possible grants. Look into grants that cover aspects of animal research, focusing on both private and public opportunities. When lending money, always be mindful of three key areas: the principal, the term and the interest rate.

At the end of the day, you need to make decisions based on what’s best for you and your practice. Your goal is to meet the needs of your clients, so be sure to automate as many systems as possible. This will free up precious time and energy, so that you can focus on what really matters — taking care of those who do not have a voice.



EasyDVM Practice Software is a cloud-based veterinary practice management software system. We pride ourselves in offering a system that is user-friendly, easy to learn for new team members, full-featured and elegant in its simplicity. Best of all, all devices, multiple users, all your clients and patients, always affordable.

Picking a Location for Your New Startup Veterinary Practice

by Sam D Meisler DVM

Starting veterinary practice - Location
Starting veterinary practice – Location

When looking for a location to start a veterinary practice, there are several considerations you need to take into account. By considering the demographics of the local population, you can ensure you open your practice in a location where there is plenty of demand for your service. Here are a few of the most important factors to consider.

Population Within 5 Miles

People don’t like to travel a long way to take a sick pet to the vet. They are much more likely to choose a vet in their local area than one far away. Looking at the size of the population within 5 miles gives you an idea of the maximum possible size of your client base. If you choose a location that is miles out of town, you’ll have to work incredibly hard to convince people your service is worth the drive.

Local Demographics

The population size of the town you plan to set up in is not the only factor that affects the maximum number of clients your practice can attract. You need to know some basic facts about the people living in the local area. Most importantly, how many of them are pet owners? Pet ownership varies widely by area. For example, more than 70 percent of households in Vermont own a pet, compared to just over half of households in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. You can use these statewide statistics to estimate the number of pet owners in the area around your planned location, or conduct your own market research to get a more localized picture of pet ownership.

Household Income

To make your veterinary practice a viable business, you need to attract customers who can afford to pay for the services you offer. Use local household income data to find out which neighborhoods are home to pet owners who can afford to pay for their pets to have the best veterinary care.


When you think you have found the perfect location for your new veterinary practice, don’t forget to find out whether there are already vets operating in the area. Competition isn’t necessarily a reason to reject an attractive area, but you will need to think about how you can differentiate yourself from the businesses already established there. What will you offer to entice pet owners away from their current vets? Longer opening hours? Lower prices? Specialist services? These are all questions you need to ask before deciding to go head-to-head with an established competitor.

Suitable Spaces

Once you have pinned down the area where you want to open your veterinary practice, you need to find a suitable space in which to open your business. One option is to rent a retail space, which gives you the opportunity to try out the local market without the commitment of buying or building a free standing structure to house your practice. However, if you decide you want to stay in the area, building or buying your own property can provide long term financial benefits.


Opening a veterinary practice requires a huge amount of investment, so it makes sense not to skimp on research when picking a location. When you understand the local population and the competition you will face if you choose to set up your practice in a particular area, you can tailor your services to increase your business’s chance of success.

EasyDVM Practice Software is a cloud-based veterinary practice management software system. We pride ourselves in offering a system that is user-friendly, easy to learn for new team members, full-featured and elegant in its simplicity. Best of all, all devices, multiple users, all your clients and patients, always affordable.

Mentorship in the Veterinary Practice

by Sam D Meisler DVM

Guidance from a senior veterinary associate.

In a study of career path choices in the early post-graduate, “more than a third (38.0%) of respondents reported leaving a position solely because of inadequate mentorship and support.” Canadian Veterinary Journal, 2009 Sep; 50(9): 943–948.   As a practice owner for almost 20 years, I have learned that the true problem lies more in an expectation mismatch on the part of both the practice employer and the new veterinarian graduate.

New graduate veterinarians enter the work force with the expectation that their new employers will complete the incomplete education that they received at veterinary school.  On the other hand, practice owners are looking for competent associate veterinarians willing to adapt to their practice environment and culture. And both – after a few months into the relationship – can get increasingly frustrated with each other.  The fundamental issue is that even though most veterinarians enter the work force in pursuit of general veterinary practice, our veterinary schools and colleges are graduating veterinarians who are not prepared for it on day one. As a result, the idea of mentorship to solve this problem has been introduced to the new veterinary graduate.

Unfortunately, mentorship in the world of business and mentorship to a new graduate have two completely different meanings. As a veterinary business owner, I define mentorship as the assimilating and guiding of a new graduate into the practice culture by a mentor. Many new graduates, however, see the mentor as their new professor responsible for teaching them the needed skills to become a more confident and competent veterinarian. Yes, all of our more experienced associates are happy and willing to assist the new graduate with acquiring new skills. The expectation at our practice, however, is that the mentee is ultimately responsible to make sure this happens, and the mentor is there to guide and assist in how best to navigate that training within the confines of our company culture. As Chris Myers, CEO and co-founder of BodeTree, says in Forbes Magazine, “Too many young professionals fail to realize that mentorship is a two-way street. You have to deliver tremendous value to your mentor as well, and that often means working longer and harder than those around you.”

We solve this expectation mismatch by asking the new graduate in the interview process what their expectations are and what they define mentorship as.  We then clarify what our definition is.  And we explain that we will help guide their assimilation into our practice culture.  We also expect them to identify areas where they need skill development and to take our advice on how to develop those skills. We do not say we will be responsible for teaching those new skills.  We will guide them in their education and teach them how to use the resources available to learn new skills. Ultimately our goal is to develop an associate veterinarian who learns throughout his or her career.

Why Rechecks Are Key Ingredient to Optimal Pet Care

by Sam D Meisler DVM

A recheck examination is as important, if not more so, as the initial exam. Rechecks ensure pets are receiving high quality veterinary care which should always be our primary goal. Why then is compliance among pet owners and staff alike so challenging to procure?

Does your practice management software track recheck exam appointments?
Does your practice management software track recheck exam appointments?

The reasons are many. Pet owners may view a recheck as difficult or inconvenient. Perhaps they see them as excessive or unnecessary. Staff members may have a natural resistance to scheduling rechecks because they fear it will upset the pet owner. Therefore, the biggest obstacle in scheduling rechecks may simply be educating both clients and staff on reasons why recheck appointments are vital to the health of the pet.

The primary reason for a recheck or follow-up visit is to give the veterinarian the opportunity to assess whether the pet’s condition has improved. For the health of the pet, it is necessary to determine whether progress has been made. The pet owner may be at a disadvantage when it comes to making an assessment regarding whether their pet is improving. It can be quite difficult, and in some instances impossible, for the pet owner to determine if a surgical incision is healing properly, whether parasites are gone, or whether blood levels are improving. The veterinarian and staff are best able to property evaluate whether progress is being made.

A second reason to schedule a recheck exam is to properly evaluate an acute problem, such as vomiting or a skin condition, to assess if the condition is resolved. If the condition has not resolved, it is important for the veterinarian to have the opportunity to develop a plan for long term care. Pet owners can become overwhelmed when they are given too much information in a single visit. Instructing and educating clients on acute problems and long term care takes time. A recheck examination not only gives the veterinarian invaluable information on the state of the pet’s condition, it provides an opportunity to further instruct the pet owner on the proper way to care for their pet going forward.

Rechecks also provide an opportunity to double check a patient’s progress. Double checking to ensure the client fully understood the instructions for administering medication, or to determine whether they are successful in getting their pet to cooperate with the prescribed treatment, helps the veterinarian measure the progress the pet is making. Not understanding directions or instructions are common roadblocks in administering proper care. Having the opportunity to assess whether the client is in compliance with the veterinarian’s instructions can only be achieved through a recheck examination. Making a proper assessment over the phone or through a voice mail message is next to impossible. A follow up examination with the pet owner and patient is the only way to accurately determine whether there is compliance with the prescribed care as well as improvement in the patient’s condition.

Better pet care begins with the relationship among the veterinarian, pet owner, and patient. When a pet owner brings their pet in for a follow up appointment within a short period of time, continuity of care is established. When the same veterinarian sees the pet to reevaluate the pet’s progress, this reinforces the veterinarian-pet owner relationship which ultimately results in better care. Continuity of care not only builds trust, it helps pet owners feel more comfortable knowing their pets are receiving great care. Pet owners are reassured they are doing their part to keep their pet healthy. When a relationship of mutual trust between the veterinarian and pet owner exists, the pet benefits tremendously. A solid relationship between the veterinarian and pet owner makes it possible for the pet owner to better understand their pet’s condition and care plan. The pet owner gains peace of mind through understanding how to care for their pet at home, being instructed on what to watch for, and when they should call their veterinarian for further help or reassurance. When a solid relationship exists between the veterinarian, pet owner, and pet the foundation for better pet care is fully established.

Follow up care also gives the pet owner additional opportunities to ask the veterinarian about other concerns they may have regarding their pet’s health. This not only gives the pet owner peace of mind, it ensures their pet is receiving optimal care. If the pet has an ear problem or a skin condition, the sooner the veterinarian is made aware of the concern the better for the pet. Having the opportunity to assess ongoing issues means potential problems are identified and treatment prescribed in a timely manner which ensures the pet is receiving the best possible care. This should always be our number one priority and rechecks will ensure this goal is attained.

Does your practice management software track recheck appointments and exams?


1) Clinicians Brief

2) VetStreet

Generic Pricing in Veterinary Practice

by Sam D Meisler DVM

There is an economic disincentive for veterinary practice owners to bring a generic drug into a practice to replace a brand one.  If you are selling a brand name pill that costs you $1 for $2 (ie two times markup) then your gross profit per pill is $1.  A company now offers you the same pill in generic form for $0.75.   You mark up the generic pill by two and sell it for $1.50.  Your profit, however, sinks to $0.75.  Your efforts to lower the costs of medical care for your clients has cost you 25% of your profits for this medication.  Why would you do such a thing?  You could be just a very altruistic individual.  Perhaps you, your staff and your veterinarians are already financially well compensated through appropriate service pricing.  There is a way, however, to give your clients a discounted price for the generic medication without giving up any of the profits.


In the example above, what if you could still make $1 per pill?  If you sold the generic for $1.75, you would still make a $1 per pill and your client would save $0.25.  With this solution, everybody wins.  Better yet, there is a formula you can use to calculate the exact markup to use for this winning solution. In this example, you can easily see that the markup is $1.75 divided by $0.75 or a 2.33 times markup.  The client price is the cost ($0.75) times 2.33 which equals $1.75.  The formula to use is:

Generic Drug Markup =  (Cost of Brand Per Unit/Cost of Generic Per Unit)*(Brand Drug Mark Up -1)   + 1

In the example above, the markup equals ($1/$0.75)(2-1) + 1 = 2.33.

From now on, welcome generics into your practice with open arms.  You will feel better offering your clients more value for less money without any sacrifice.  And for pet owners reading this blog, help your veterinarian see the value of generics this way.

EasyDVM Practice Software is a cloud-based veterinary practice management software system. We pride ourselves in offering a system that is user-friendly, easy to learn for new team members, full-featured and elegant in its simplicity. Best of all, all devices, multiple users, all your clients and patients, always affordable.

Pricing in Veterinary Practices

by Sam D Meisler DVM

The business of veterinary medicine is fascinating.  When we all embarked on our journey to become veterinarians, how to succeed as a veterinarian seemed to have nothing to do with the business of veterinary medicine. Goal number one was getting into vet school. Goal number two was paying for vet school – i.e. student loans. And goal number three was getting a job and getting paid for it. Somehow, we all assumed that things ended there for us as far as veterinary economics was concerned.  Our negotiation for a higher salary woPricing in Vet Practiceuld be with our bosses, and we could let our bosses figure out how it would all work with clients, pets, services and products. We would try to generally stay out of the business mess.

But then as we advanced in our careers, some of us started to get frustrated with our bosses. Why didn’t he buy that ultrasound machine that I wanted and needed to use?  Why doesn’t she pay her staff more money? How did my paid vacation disappear when I went to proSal?  Why are we always being pressured to sell wellness packages? And then we thought we could do it better.  So some of us became bosses and then after a while, we started to understand that just like our former bosses, we didn’t have all the answers. We also started to understand some of the answers we had been given.

One of the biggest questions I get asked from owners and associates alike is how does one price a product or service.  The simple answer to that question is this: the price you can charge for a product or service is the highest price the market will bear.  Is it to do with what’s fair?  Generally, pricing has nothing to do with what is fair.  Yes, at both extremes of pricing a product or service (ie super low price or super high price), there are ethical questions.  Is it fair to charge people hundreds of dollars for a life saving epipen when the product costs so little to produce? No, that does not seem fair.  So as a veterinary business owner, how do you decide what to charge while still upholding one of the highest ethical standards ascribed to a profession?

Fairness in pricing involves looking at all stakeholders involved in the veterinary business.  Stakeholders in your veterinary business include your lay team members, your associates, your clients, your patients, your vendors, you and your family, etc.  Fairness implies balance.  You must balance the financial impact to you and your team versus the financial impact to your clients.  In most cases, a veterinary practice has far fewer business owners and employees than it has clients. Therefore, any pricing decision has a far greater individual impact on you or one of your employees than on any of your individual clients.  For example, a $5 increase in the average transaction fee (from a general price increase) for a practice with 10,000 transactions per year (perhaps generated by 5000 clients) means potentially $50,000 more for you and your staff.  For the individual client, they spend $10 more for the year on average while you and your staff (say you and 9 employees) receive an average of $5000 in increased pay potentially.  The key point here is your clients can handle a price increase much better that you and your staff can handle a price decrease.

More importantly, you are well within ethical boundaries if your prices are within range of what provides you and your employees fair compensation for your investment of time, capital, education and stress.  So now we circle back to our answer: price your products and services at the highest the market will bear until you feel that you and your staff are being unfairly overcompensated.  (Please post a comment to this blog if you know of any practice that unfairly overcompensates it’s owners and it’s employees.)

By the way, as a general guideline, use the following benchmarks for compensation: practice profit should be 20% of revenues, yearly rent if you are a veterinary facility owner should be 10% of the appraised value, yearly salary as a full-time veterinarian should be around $95,000 plus or minus $20,000 depending on the region, and staff wages should be $15 per hour plus or minus $2/hour depending on the region – in order to be a high quality practice (  If you can’t reach these benchmarks, don’t be ashamed of any price hikes in your products and services.  Remember the words “what the market will bear”; these words limit your price increases as well.  Most of the time, however, the market can bear much higher prices than veterinary business owners and their employees can stomach.  Check back for future posts on pricing lab work, generic versus brand name pricing, and pricing expensive injectables for larger pets.

Worried about the transition from Paper-based to Paper-less Veterinary Practice Software?

by Sam D Meisler DVM

Worried about the cost and expense of a transition from paper to paperless?  This is a very valid concern and there are many things to consider.  First, how will the transition take place.  In going from paper-based medical rAnxietyecords to paper records, we recommend proceeding slowly.

Once you have decided on a veterinary practice management software provider, the first thing to do in the initial set up after getting your basic business information in (ie. name, address, logo, sales tax percentage, etc) is to load up your prices for services and products.  Most providers will allow you to put all of your prices onto a spreadsheet like Excel and they will then
load them into their software database.  Or you can enter them in one by one.

Next, take a good hard look at all those shelves or filing cabinets full of paper medical records.  Converting them to your new veterinary practice management software system is a daunting task.  Yes, you could pay a third party to come onsite and scan in all the thousands of patient records into i
ndividual pdf files for an exorbitant fee.  Then you could upload them all one-by-one into the software wasting hours and hours of your staff’s time.  Instead, we suggest that this is a great time to clean house.  Instead of converting every medical record, take this opportunity to purge records.
The best way to do this is when you are ready to start using your new system, enter client and pet information into the computer only as those particular clients come in for services.  You could also save time, if you have scheduledappointments, by entering client and pet information into the system the night before.  Scan the old paper records into a pdf file at the same time.  Many veterinary practice management software systems have a client registration screen where the client can do all the work for you by entering their current information directly into an iPad.  When the client comes in, give them the iPad to enter their information.  After a year of doing this, you can slowly purge that huge mess of paper medical records.  And in time, you can slowly move the old paper records of clients no longer using your services to the back room for storage.

Above all, make the transition super easy on you and your staff.  And use a veterinary practice management software system that is as easy to use as ordering something from Amazon.

When the Veterinary Client is Stressed

by Sam D Meisler DVM

In veterinary practices, we deal with a multitude of situations in which the client is stressed.  How we deal with this anxious client up front often determines whether the overall experience for both the client and the pet is a happy one.  In the October 2015 Harvard Business Review article, When The Customer Is Stressed, authors Leonard L. Berry, Scott W. Davis, and Jody Wilmet, use the example of the human oncology patient as their subject in looking at this situation.  They explain that in dealing with “high-emotion services” — those services related to major life events like birth, death, health care issues, airline travel, etc — intense feelings are elicited for a variety of reasons.  In the veterinary practice, those reasons include a lack of familiarity with our services, a lack of control over how those services are delivered, major consequences if the services are performed incorrectly, the complexity of the service, and sometimes in cases of chronic illness, the long duration of the services to be performed.

How we deal with the stressed veterinary client will ultimately govern the outcome of our patient’s care and well-being.  According to the authors, the first step is to identify emotional triggers.  In veterinary practice, this could be the discussion of finances in the exam room, the point where the pet is taken to the back and left at the practice for work-up procedures, or even when the pet is sent home with vague instructions on what to do next.  The important point here is to ask your clients about their worst fears and worst experiences in a veterinary hospital.

The second step is to prepare the client for what will happen before these emotional triggers occur.  Before you take the pet out of the exam room for diagnostics, explain to the client what you will be doing.  For long term conditions like skin allergies, go over with the client what to expect in the future.  Is your treatment a cure or is it maintenance treatment for allergies? Go over long term treatment plans.  Prior to the dental or surgery procedure, go over with the client all the steps that will occur. Even better, show them where it will happen.  Tell them that you will go over finances before committing them to any services.

And communicate with care.  Most of our communication as human beings is through primarily what our body language is showing, followed by our tonality and lastly by our actual word content. Make sure your body language and voice tone are nurturing, compassionate and unhurried.  Monitor the client for those unexpected emotional or anxiety triggers by asking them if things are going ok.  Don’t assume that all is well, ask.

Step three is to enhance the veterinary client’s control.  Involve the client in any and all decision-making about their pet.  When the pet is discharged, the client should not feel abandoned by their veterinary team.  Discharge instructions must be very clear on what to do if complications arise or if things do not go as expected.  Would it really hurt to give out your cell phone number?   Call clients with results from diagnostics as soon as possible; and do not ever over-promise and under-deliver.  As the gap increases between when you said you were going to call and when you actually call about results, anxiety will rise exponentially.

And finally, hire the right people and teach them well.  You need empathetic, non-domineering, nurturing individuals who can communicate well.  Teach your veterinary team how to listen, how to make a client feel in control, how to hold a client’s hand through the process of diagnosing and treating their ill pet.   The Cleveland Clinic has two videos about empathy: Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care and Patients: Afraid and Vulnerable.  Model the behavior you expect from your team. Show them what you expect. Meet regularly.  Go over client complaints as a group.  Complaints are a well of anxiety or emotional triggers gone awry.  Ask how could we have done better and not who is responsible for this fiasco.