5 Ways Good Doctors Say Bad Things

Are you always rushing to speak to your clients or are using confusing medical jargon on them? Here’s 5 ways to help improve your communication skills.


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You’ve had a vomiting, diarrhea and hit-by-car morning. It’s 6 p.m. and you finally call a client who left a message at 9 a.m. to discuss her pet’s senior blood work and urinalysis. You start the rapid-fire conversation with, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t call you earlier. We’ve had a crazy day at the clinic, and I didn’t have time to call you until now.” What the client hears is, “Your pet is not important to me.”

Your hurried tone transfers your anxious emotions to the client. Even the best doctors can make communication mistakes and risk losing clients. Here are five communication blunders and how you can correct them:

1) Rushing through follow-up calls. No matter how stressful your day, take a deep breath and start fresh with each phone call. Say, “Mrs. Myers, thank you for your message this morning. I have reviewed Opus’ blood work and urinalysis and have great news. His results are within normal ranges. Let me explain each result to you. … We love to celebrate the good news of normal test results. We will continue to monitor Opus’ health with preventive care exams every six months and will repeat his blood work next year to detect any changes early. You’re doing a great job with Opus’ preventive care. What questions can I answer?”

Always share copies of lab results with clients. If you use Idexx’s VetConnect Plus, you can email results to clients or upload them to their pets’ web pages on your website.

2) Confusing clients with medical jargon. Nine out of 10 people lack the health literacy skills to manage their health and prevent disease. Just like human healthcare professionals, veterinary teams have their own verbal shorthand that may be effective when they speak to each other but confuses pet owners. When clients don’t understand your advice, they may decline diagnostic testing, dentistry and treatments. To be a good veterinarian or team member, you need to be a good teacher.

Use easy-to-understand words with every pet owner, whether they have a Harvard MBA or high school diploma.

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3) Catching drug monitoring when clients requests refills. Most pet owners will call for refills when the last doses are gone. Clients may get angry when prescriptions are declined because drug-monitoring tests are due.

Stop negative experiences with reminders. When filling the initial prescription for a long-term medication, set a drug-monitoring reminder for one month before testing is due. Use this message for postal and email reminders: <Pet name> has been previously diagnosed with a medical condition that requires monitoring. Maintaining your pet’s health is important to us. <Pet name> is due for a blood test for drug monitoring, which is required for future prescription refills. Please call us at 555-555-5555 for an appointment.

Enter the number of refills. When dispensing the first prescription, the technician should note the number of refills available in electronic and/or paper medical records. If a doctor requires a blood test every six months and the technician is filling a one-month supply, five refills of 30 tablets are available.

The number of refills will print on each prescription label. When clients call for refills, the client service representative (CSR) can check the computer and instantly see whether the medication can be refilled without having to ask a doctor or pull a medical record. This is a significant time saver and provides timely answers for clients. If doctors want to approve every prescription request, the CSR would tell the client, “I see that you have five refills available. What time would you like to pick up your pet’s medication? If the doctor has any questions, I will call you back.”

When blood work will be due before the next refill, put a colored sticker on the prescription vial such as “Blood test required before next refill.” The prescription label also will note that zero refills remain. The fluorescent sticker alerts the client as well as your front-desk team. While checking out the client, the CSR sees the sticker and tells the client, “I see this is your last refill before drug testing is due. Let’s schedule your technician appointment for the blood draw and test, and then I will have you pay for the medication. An appointment reminder will print on today’s receipt.”

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4) Telling clients “No news is good news” for lab results. Clients are paying for test results. “No news is good news” could harm their perception of value and make it more challenging to get compliance next time when you ask to repeat the intestinal parasite screen.

Communicate test results with phone calls or emails. Tell clients, “A reference lab performs our intestinal parasite screens. We will email you if your pet’s test is negative tomorrow, or call you if it is positive so we can explain the diagnosis and treatment. Let me confirm your email as well as the best phone number to reach you.” This approach helps you to collect more emails and cell numbers while managing clients’ expectations.

Use this email message for lab results: <Pet’s name> intestinal parasite screen was negative (no parasite eggs were present). Remember to give <pet’s name> his heartworm and intestinal parasite preventative each month to protect him from harmful parasites. Intestinal parasites can be passed from pets to people. Be sure to give your pet its heartworm preventive on the same day of each month. To get a monthly email reminder to give <pet’s name> his medication, go to If you need refills, call us at 555-555-5555 or click here.

5) Failing to train your front-desk team. Although doctors need to focus on patient care, they must be aware of the level of client service that employees are delivering. Poor service reflects the veterinarian’s lack of leadership. Even the most beloved veterinarian can lose clients when employees deliver lackluster experiences.

Does your staff answer the phone by the third ring? Are callers greeted with a golden retriever personality that communicates you’re eager to help pets, or do they hear the snarl of an overwhelmed receptionist? In a phone survey of 3,000 calls to U.S. and Canadian veterinary hospitals, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians found an average score of 2 on a 5-star scale. Triple-espresso greetings, being thrown into hold hell and failure to convert phone shoppers into new clients results in mediocre service and low new client numbers.

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Survey clients after every transaction using third-party providers such as VSmart, Idexx Pet Health Network Pro or Vetstreet. Provide ongoing training in phone skills and client service so your team can deliver a level of service that matches your level of medicine. Communication Solutions for Veterinarians offers webinars, seminars, mystery phone shopper training and books 

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