You call a client about her cat’s lab results and leave a detailed voicemail, explaining you need to discuss the diagnosis and treatment. After two days with no response, you leave a second voicemail.
Even if clients have your hospital’s phone number saved in their contacts, research shows 67 percent do not listen to voicemails. I understand why. Clients cannot skim voicemails. They must listen to the entire message, call back, wait on hold, and leave a message because the veterinarian is not available.
Text is a better choice. Text dialogue can happen asynchronously. Both parties do not have to be on their phones at the same time. Veterinarians and clients can reply when they are available. Up to 80 percent of callers choose texting over voicemail.1
Millennials are the largest pet-owning segment, and 60 percent prefer to communicate with businesses via text.2,3
There is a way to end your frustration with unreturned calls and phone tag. Turn your callbacks into “textbacks.” Texts rarely go unread or unanswered. Ditch the 10-minute task of calling and leaving a voicemail. Replace it with a two-minute text. Create templates in your texting platform for these common responses:
Text after discharge
After each hospitalized patient is discharged from surgery, dentistry, or treatment for an illness, your medical team follows up with clients. Set expectations for a text back during the discharge appointment.
Say this: “You will get a text/app message from us tomorrow to confirm that <pet name> is eating, drinking, and taking medications. If you have questions or concerns, reply to the text, or call us at 555-555-5555.”
The next day, text this: “We are checking on <pet name> after surgery yesterday. Is <pet name> eating, drinking, and taking medications? Reply Y or N. Reply with questions.”
If the client replies “Y” for yes, document the communication in the electronic medical record and reply to thank the client. If a client replies “N” for no, call to discuss the pet’s symptoms and next steps. The client’s answers may prompt an appointment for a progress exam or telemedicine consult.
Create a series of text templates when patients require multiple follow-up messages. Text campaigns should notify, educate, support, and steer pet owners. In your texting platform, link the series to trigger in sequential order.
Suppose you perform a dental treatment with several extractions. Send this series of texts after the dental discharge appointment:
- One day later: “We are checking on <pet name> after oral surgery yesterday. Feed a soft food, no hard treats or chews, and refrain from brushing teeth for X days. Is <pet name> eating, drinking, and taking medications? Reply Y or N. Reply with questions.”
- Four days later: “<Pet name> may eat regular food now. No hard treats or chews for X days after oral surgery. Reply with questions.”
- Seven days later: “You may gently brush <pet name>’s teeth with pet toothpaste and a soft toothbrush now. Click here <link> to watch our video on how to brush your dog’s teeth. Reply with questions.”
- Fourteen days later (or based on next appointment date): “<Pet name> has a progress exam to check on healing from oral surgery on <date, time>. Reply C to confirm or RS to reschedule.”
Text after sick outpatient exams
For example, you saw an urgent care patient for loose and watery stools. You determine the gastrointestinal upset was due to high-fat table scraps at the family barbeque, and radiographs confirm no bones were ingested. You prescribe medication and instruct the client to feed a bland diet for several days.
The outpatient technician who assisted the veterinarian with the exam will be responsible for follow-up communication.
Text this: “We are checking to see if <pet name> is feeling better. Feed a bland diet for X days. Is <pet name> having normal stools and a good appetite? Reply Y or N. Reply with questions.”
The client already has a relationship with this technician, who is familiar with details of the case. If the problem has not resolved, schedule a progress exam.
Text preventative lab results
Share lab results for intestinal parasite screens that you send to your reference lab. I provided consulting and onsite training for a 10-doctor hospital where the medical team told clients, “No news is good news” for intestinal parasite test results. Being busy is not a good excuse and may harm compliance for preventive diagnostics. Pet owners are paying to learn results. Clients will be more likely to accept screening in the future if they understand today’s results.
Text clients about negative results and reinforce timely dosing of preventatives. Call clients about positive results so you may discuss treatment and medication.
Text this: “<Pet name>’s intestinal parasite screen was negative with no egg cells or parasites seen. Give <brand> each month for heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention. Click here to view lab results <link to patient portal on your website>. Reply with questions.”
Text as a backup to voicemails
A client calls and tells your client service representative, “Someone from your hospital just called me. What do you need?” The client sees the missed call on his phone and hits redial. While you might find the answer in the electronic medical record, the staff member may not be available.
Whenever you leave a voicemail, send a backup text to lead the client to listen and promptly call back. Your text should include the best time to return the call based on the staff member’s availability.
Text this: “Dr. <Name> left you a voicemail about <pet name>’s lab test. Please listen, and then call 555-555-5555 to discuss the diagnosis and treatment. Dr. <Name> will be available between 2:00 and 2:20 p.m.”
Veterinarians need administrative time blocked in their schedules to review lab results, update medical records, approve prescriptions, and call/text/email clients and vendors. Learn how to add doctor-client communication blocks so veterinarians can batch tasks. (Read my article on “Overwhelmed with callbacks and emails?” in the August 2022 issue of Veterinary Practice News.)
Clients will get cranky if they leave multiple messages without returned calls. Watch my two-minute video on what to say when a client demands to talk with the veterinarian, but he isn’t available. (Check out: “I need to talk to the doctor now!” on YouTube.)
Have a doctor and technician list the top callback scenarios at your hospital. Identify which callbacks could be converted to textbacks, which will improve your team’s productivity and increase response rates from clients. Write templates for your texting platform to save time and have consistent messaging from your hospital.
Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has been training veterinary teams for 22 years as owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians. She teaches teams to become confident communicators, so more pet owners say yes to medical care. Wendy shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly live CE credit webinars. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. Her passion is to help practices like yours thrive and grow through effective communication skills. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.csvets.com.
- 22 Business Phone Statistics. Numa. Available at: https://www.numa.com/blog/22-business-phone-statistics. Accessed Aug. 11, 2022.
- Share of Pet Ownership in the United States in 2021-2022 by Generation. Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1130651/pet-ownership-by-generation-us/. Accessed Aug. 11, 2022.
- Svyrydenko A. Why Millennials Love Texting. TextMagic. Available at: https://www.textmagic.com/blog/why-millenials-love-texting-infographic/. Accessed Aug. 11, 2022.