February 20, 2012
Dr. M was heartbroken. Possibly on the verge of tears. And she called me, of all people, to find some comfort…
Ms. Greenback walked into Dr. M’s practice and interrupted a conversation she was having with a long-standing client. Ms. Greenback declared: “I’m looking for a new vet…”
Since she had just opened her practice, Dr. M was excited about the opportunity to shine and impress a new potential client. That is, until Ms. Greenback finished her sentence: “I’m looking for a new vet to euthanize my sick dog.”
This was against everything Dr. M believed in. She did not approve the concept of convenience euthanasia simply because a pet becomes, well, an inconvenience.
So what followed was a desperate attempt at reasoning with the client. Why euthanize? “Why don’t we start with a physical exam, and maybe blood work, to find out if we can’t help your dog?”
Maybe the dog’s problem was treatable. But the client didn’t want to hear it.
“Look Doc, I just can’t afford all your fancy testing. If I paid for it, then I wouldn’t be able to feed all the other dogs I’ve rescued over the years.”
Ouch. The client had just pressed another hot button of Dr. M. “If she can’t afford to take appropriate care of one dog, why on earth does she keep rescuing other dogs?” she wondered.
Since there was no hope for reasoning, Dr. M asked her receptionist to present an estimate to the client. As she later confessed, this may have been a mistake. Maybe she should have explained the estimate to the client herself. But she was so disgusted, that she did not want to confront the client.
The estimate included placement of an IV catheter, injection of a sedative, injection of the deadly fluid, as well as different options to take care of the body. What sounded reasonable and meeting the standard of care turned Ms. Greenback into a wild woman. She started screaming at Dr. M, telling her that all she cared about was money, and that she really didn’t care about animals. And as a consequence, Ms. Greenback was going back to her previous vet, who would euthanize her dog for $40, and without asking silly question.
The story could end there. Many readers have probably experienced a similar situation.
Two days later, Dr. M received an irate letter. It said something like: “You may be new to the area, but you will never see my 3 dogs and 4 cats. I am Ms. Greenback’s neighbor, and from her description, you are a heartless, careless, money-driven person who does not deserve to be a vet. We don’t need people like you around here.”
Dr. M could not believe that someone would go out of their way to actually write such a letter.
“Do you really think I did something wrong? I can’t afford to have such a reputation when I’m just starting out. I need clients. I can’t push them away like that. Especially not to the vet down the road.”
My reply was: “Dr. M, you really don’t want clients like this. You don’t want clients who can’t afford your services and appropriate medical care. What you really want are type A clients. Clients who truly care about their pets and will follow your recommendations. Clients who won’t accuse you of doing it for the money. Clients who will recognize your love of animals.”
And I concluded: “You should not be sad for losing these two clients to your colleague down the street. You should be happy about it.”
Somehow, beyond my wildest expectations, this actually made Dr. M feel better. She saw her situation in a totally different light. She was happy.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, Pa. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together.”
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