Watch Your Mouth

I am often stunned by what veterinary clients tell me about their experiences with specialists, colleagues, or general practitioners.

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I am often stunned by what veterinary clients tell me about their experiences with colleagues, general practitioners or specialists. And the same situation seems to occur in human medicine. People, friends, family members often come back from their physicians and they don’t have a clue what they were told. All they heard were fancy, long, difficult-to-pronounce medical terms.

One smart, educated client recently told me that she didn’t want to have her dog have a TPLO with another surgeon because she didn’t understand a word of what he said. He apparently used expressions like “cranial tibial thrust,” “rotational deformity” and even the seemingly benign “cranial cruciate ligament.” She wasn’t impressed.

(Note: I stubbornly refuse to call said ligament the cranial cruciate ligament [CCL]. I will continue to call it the ACL until pet owners know what the CCL is. Most client has heard of the ACL, or the “typical football player injury.” Very few know what the cranial cruciate ligament. So why mention it?)

So I went over my TPLO “spiel,” using everyday words and a simple explanation, plastic model in hand. There is no need to be condescending, but we do have an obligation to be understood. She understood. We did the TPLO.

This may be a little off topic, since the words used are certainly not complicated, but in the “watch your mouth” department, I can’t resist the pleasure of sharing how MO, my wonderful technician, often made me laugh (in disbelief) when she explained how her former employer often told clients: “Your dog too fat like you” (sic).

Most clinics request a “fecal” every once in a while. One of my referring clinics promotes “intestinal parasite tests.” Which one is easier to understand? Which one motivates clients to be proactive?

Clients sometimes come to me with a diagnosis of “valgus deformity” or “premature closure of the ulnar physeal plate.” Yes, really. And they almost always have no clue what it means. Either they were not given an explanation at all, or they didn’t understand it. However, I tend to believe that 100 percent of pet owners understand what a crooked bone is.

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It is sometimes difficult to simplify our vast scientific knowledge in a way that clients actually understand what we are trying to say. I am not saying that we should treat clients like 2 year olds. I am, however, concerned that when we are not understood, ultimately, our patients might pay the price if they don’t get the care they need.

Read the second part of the discussion here.

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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