Watch Your Mouth, Part 3

Dr. Zeltzman raises issues with some of things colleagues say to clients.

I've talked about what to say and what not to say to clients before, such as in my previous blogs, Watch Your Mouth 1 and Watch Your Mouth 2. I have some additional thoughts about the vital topic of communicating with clients.

I've heard several more team members talk so loudly (or laugh, or use four-letter words) that clients waiting in rooms must hear them. How embarrassing … To a grieving or worried client, laughter might seem insulting or heartless. And to any client, cursing is probably a huge disappointment.


There should be no such thing as a “routine” surgery or procedure. Such was the opinion of a surgeon I worked with. The word routine was forbidden in surgery reports and any client communication. His concern was that if something goes wrong, you don't want a judge or a friendly member of your state board asking you: “So is it routine for you to have a dehiscence after a ‘routine' laparotomy?”

This surgeon preferred the word “standard.” A procedure described in a surgery book is standardized. When multiple surgeons perform a surgery in the same manner, it is a standard procedure.

I figured he had a good point. So now I use the word standard as well: standard laparotomy, standard approach to the knee, standard closure, etc.


I am peeved that so many colleagues have become used to calling oral masses epulis (or technically epulides). This is a huge disservice to our patients and clients, because an epulis is benign in many people's minds. People say: “It's just an epulis.” In reality, oral masses can be incredibly aggressive, either locally or not.

Fancy Wording

I continue to hear respected colleagues talk to clients like they have a Ph.D. Here is a sampling of recent words or expressions heard:

  • “Your dog/cat has non-regenerative anemia” (could be simply defined as not enough red blood cells)
  • “Thoraco-lumbar herniated disc” (how about a slipped disc in the back?)
  • “Cervical herniated disc” (slipped disc in the neck)
  • “We gave some corticosteroids” (cortisone should be good enough)
  • “He responded well to dexamethasone” (ditto)
  • “Duodenum” (upper part of the small intestine)
  • And my recent favorite: “the center for thermoregulation in the hypothalamus.” No comment.

As stated in the first installment, I am not implying that we should treat clients like 2 year olds. But I am concerned that clients don't understand us, our patient might pay the price. Or clients might leave us because they have no clue what we are trying to say.

Thank You

Here's a personal pet peeve (one of my very few. I am a surgeon after all). I have a huge issue with the classic expression “Thank you for your business,” or its evil twins, “We appreciate—or we value—your business.”

Virtually every company out there states it. Sure, it's nice to be thanked. But why remind people what you have merely a business relationship?

Why remind them that they paid for your services? “Business” is such a cold word. One of my referring vets found a nice alternative, which is stated on every invoice: “Thank you for allowing us to serve you.” Now we're talking! Serving is a much warmer word.

My personal favorite is even simpler and warmer: “Thank you for your trust.”

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