9 Communication Tips to Gain Pet Owner Compliance

If you feel like you're fighting a losing battle in getting clients to consent to critical diagnostic tests, you're not alone. Many veterinary practice managers struggle with increasing pet owners' compliance with their recommendations. By reviewing basic communication skills and beefing up your veterinary team's conversation tactics, you can reach higher levels of client compliance and better health outcomes for their pets. Try out these best practices when speaking with your clients about diagnostic testing.

1. Brush Up on Fundamental Communication Skills

When talking with clients, remember to make eye contact, use a warm tone, speak slowly, and give them your undivided attention. Avoid typing medical notes while talking, using jargon, and rushing through important details. Be empathetic, and communicate with clients the same way you would like your child's physician to communicate with you.

2. Set Client Expectations Pre-Appointment

No one likes surprises, especially those pertaining to their pet's health or their wallet. Train your team to prepare clients for what's going to happen during the visit when they make an appointment. They can simply say, "Since Sparky is limping, Dr. Beal will probably want to take an X-ray." Your client will arrive expecting X-rays to be part of the visit and won't be surprised when the suggestion is made.

3. Maintain Consistent Messaging

Your practice should have established standards of care that all team members follow. Having such standards in place will remove the inconsistency and confusion of one veterinarian recommending X-rays and another recommending the owner simply monitor the pet's condition. If clients hear the same message from your entire team, they'll be more likely to consider your recommendation.

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4. Use Visuals to Enhance Explanations

A simple picture, model, or video can often help your clients understand complicated diseases or injuries better than wordy explanations can. For example, if you're explaining an abnormality on a pet's X-ray, compare it to a normal image to provide context and highlight important differences.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Don't mistake your client's silence for understanding — formulating questions requires a certain level of understanding. If you notice a glazed-over look on their faces, ask several open-ended questions, such as, "What questions do you have about Sparky's broken leg?" or "How else can I help you better understand the treatment for Yogi's gastritis?"

6. Provide Take-Home Materials

Five minutes into your detailed explanation of hip dysplasia, your client can't move past the words "hip dysplasia" because a family member's dog was euthanized due to a severe case. Provide client education sheets, brochures, or internet resources for your clients to reference once they get home and clear their mind. Take-home materials also enable your clients to share important information with other family members, so they can make informed decisions together.

7. Explain the Test Results

Take time to explain the information you learn from each diagnostic test to help your clients understand the value of your recommendations. Don't forget to explain why normal findings are an important part of making a diagnosis — "Yogi's abdominal X-rays show no evidence of a foreign body, which means that his recent vomiting is likely due to a case of gastritis."

8. Explain Your Recommendations

For clients to buy into your recommendations, they need to know why you're recommending further tests and treatments. Explain next steps: "If Yogi continues to vomit, we should take follow-up X-rays and perform a barium study, since not all foreign bodies are visible on regular X-rays."

9. Be Prepared for Pushback

Despite your best efforts, some clients will still hesitate to follow your recommendations. Be prepared for pushback, and know how to respond:

  • Get to the root of the problem. Clients are less likely to agree to diagnostic testing they don't understand. Ask open-ended questions to flush out their misunderstanding, and help them see how your recommendations will benefit their pet.

  • Adapt your explanations. If your client doesn't understand the "why" behind your plan, choose different wording, break down medical terms, or use visual aids to make your goals clear.

  • Understand that the pushback may be valid. If a client simply cannot comply due to financial restrictions, respond with empathy, and point out the positive things they have done for their pet by bringing them for the visit.

  • Provide solutions to valid concerns. Once you identify the roadblocks to compliance, help your client strategize solutions. Perhaps diagnostics and treatments can be delayed a few weeks, or you can perform the most critical tests now and others in the near future. Share financing options and payment plans that are available to clients.

Implementing these communication tactics in your daily client conversations may take some effort at first but will become second nature in no time, benefiting your clients, your practice, and your patients.

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Sarah Rumple
Owner, Chief Creative Officer of Rumpus Writing and Editing

Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer and editor. Since 2011, her work has focused on pet health/behavior and veterinary practice management topics. Her clients include individual veterinary practice owners, national corporations, nonprofit associations, media companies, consultants, and others. Learn more at sarahrumple.com.

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