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    Process improvement: work protocol during consultations

    We are all aware of the importance of client service protocols during consultations. Working protocols are a fundamental part of process improvement at veterinary centres, just like any other company: the introduction of suitable working protocols increases efficiency and, in terms of client care, it ensures vets portray a consistent and professional image.

    Establishing a client and patient consultation care protocol will help make sure they have a consistent experience every time they visit the clinic, regardless of the day of the week they come or the veterinarian who attends them.

    Using a client care protocol to achieve process improvement during consultations

    We propose the following consultation care protocol:

    • Professional appearance. Clients cannot judge the quality of our medical procedures and therefore will look for external signs to reassure them. A clean uniform, the correct ID badge and a tidy, discreet, well-groomed appearance all help convey a professional image in a healthcare environment.
    • Professional but friendly greeting. Introduce yourself with your name and position at the centre. Smile and shake the client’s hand.
    • Engage with the pet from the outset. Greet it by name, establish physical contact with the animal and say something friendly to relax the owner. This means preparing for each visit before the client enters the consultation room.
    • Apologise if you are running late. Praise and thank clients who arrive on time: besides being a sign of courtesy, these practices send the clientèle and the rest of veterinary team a clear message about the value of their time and ours. Along the same lines, it is also advisable to call clients who have not arrived for their appointment 20 minutes after the agreed time. The call must be courteous and friendly, but it will serve to remind the client that a veterinarian from the centre has been waiting for them for several minutes.
    • Use the owner’s and pet’s names at least once throughout the course of the visit. It improves interaction and demonstrates service orientation. Even the most sceptical of clients who think you have retrieved their name from the medical records a few minutes before the visit will appreciate your effort positively as a sign of professionalism.
    • Conduct a complete physical examination, while constantly explaining to the owner what you are doing and your findings. We often forget that what is obvious to us is probably an unknown for our clients. Just 30 seconds of silent visual inspection of the pet’s ear can seem like an eternity for an anxious client.
    • Always provide some written information. This improves client understanding, promotes brand recall for our veterinary centre and raises client perception of the value of the service received. A consultation report such as the one below, adapted from the one given to clients at the Seixal Veterinary Hospital in Lisbon (click on the image for a full-size view), is an excellent educational tool for clients. These reports also provide a valuable secondary benefit; they comprise a guide for all veterinarians at the centre, so they may follow systematic, standardised guidelines for physical examinations.
    • Make visual contact with clients, especially when giving them an important message. Avoid writing or concentrating on the computer when explaining healthcare indications to clients. Be mindful of your nonverbal communication!
    • Combine verbal explanations with visual resources, whenever possible. It has been proven that the use of drawings, diagrams, graphs, joint models, videos, and so on, significantly improves client comprehension (and therefore the likelihood of acceptance and memory retention).
    • Use language accessible to the client but without lapsing into platitudes or inaccuracies. A common mistake among younger veterinarians is to try to impress customers with sophisticated terminology, in the false belief that this will have a positive impact on their professional image. On the contrary, this often results in derailed clients who feel intimidated and distanced from the veterinarian, but hopefully they will end up asking the assistant or receptionist to repeat “the doctor’s explanation”.
    • Summarise the main information for the client and make sure they understand it all. The renowned English veterinary consultant, John Sheridan, is accustomed to using a methodology which shows how communicating with clients is a challenging task for many veterinarians. A four-item questionnaire that is answered separately is given to both veterinarians and all clients at the end of each consultation held over 3 or 4 consecutive days:

    Finalising consultations: has the client assimilated the information the vet wished to convey?

    Most veterinarians are considerably surprised when they discover just how much their clients have understood. An effective technique for minimising this problem involves summarising the most relevant points of the consultation at the end of each visit:

    • What have we found out?
    • What will the veterinary centre do going forward?
    • What should the owner do from now on?
    • When should the patient return to the clinic?

    Furthermore, it is highly advisable to close the conversation with two questions: “Mr Brown, is everything clear to you? Do you want us to go over any information?”. These two questions will dispel many misunderstandings, avoid calls with inquiries from the client, and significantly improve follow-up and compliance with our health recommendations.

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