Communication in Veterinary Medicine
Technological advancements in veterinary medicine have made leaps and bounds over the last decade, and particularly in 2020. The way we communicate and interact with our clients, one another, and how certain procedures in a veterinary clinic are conducted has changed dramatically making access to care and convenience a top priority.
Communication with clients, among hospital teams, and management were primarily in person or via telephone when I first started my career in 2008. If there was a concern within the team, we would have a team meeting where all members were required to attend. Notes were taken, and later posted on the team board to refer to. When pets had laboratory testing done on their pet, they would receive a phone call from the doctor to review their lab results. Nowadays, phone calls may be preferred when communicating lab results about a pet, but the new generation of pet owners prefer supplemental information. Inter-hospital communications have also increased in the form of emails and memos, as in-person team meeting have become more difficult as business has increased since the start of the pandemic.
Client communication is one area that has become trickier. Clients prefer to have additional information delineating their pets’ medical concern and prefer having educational material they can refer to better understand their pets’ condition. Educating clients on the pros, cons, cost, and treatment options helps enhance the communication between a clinic and pet owner. Many providers have a repository of client education materials to choose from and share with pet owners. Of course, there is a risk of information overload, but being a millennial myself I love reading about the diagnosis of my pet and having something in hand to refer to after an initial phone call.
But what if you spend a ton of time playing phone tag with your clients and staff? How do you determine the best way to reach your clients?
This situation presented itself OFTEN when I was a practice manager. My team and I constantly assessed our internal communication procedures, to determine the best way to communicate with our clients while delivering value. From only having a telephone to suddenly having the ability to email, text, and connect over social media or via an app, it became that much more complex in determining how to effectively communicate with our clients who were of various age groups and generations.
Should we use a one size fits all approach? Did we determine and assess when the best time to call pet parents was? Did we leave more messages than making a personal contact? This was a tricky task that constantly evolved and became more complex as new communication tools were introduced in the mix. We had clients who did not have smartphones or check their email, and who preferred phone calls. Then we had millennials who preferred electronic methods of communication, via text messages and emails.
How to Determine the Best Communication Approach
So how do you determine the best method of communication within a veterinary practice when it comes to your pet patients and meeting your client’s needs?
I would recommend veterinary practices come up with standard operating procedures around client communication and inter-hospital communications, and partner with one another to determine the most effective mode of communication.
A couple of methods that I have found have worked are by asking for feedback from pet owners, utilizing a survey to ask clients their preferred contact method, and a questionnaire about whether they would like to receive additional material. The questionnaire can be created via a Google Form, or handed out during an appointment and then notes can be made in the client chart. The leg work up front would decrease the amount of time and frustrations from both clients and veterinary teams if they were able to communicate effectively. A simple ask can help make the communication process more effective with client communication versus using a one size fits all approach.
With electronic medical record systems now in veterinary practices, notating and recording additional information regarding client communication preferences has become easier. Some EMR systems can even connect with apps where clients can communicate with hospital teams and view their pet’s medical history.
Adapting to Technology
The human medical industry adapted to this wave of change about five years ago with many providers converting to electronic medical records, email, and text communications. Increasingly more physicians and nurses recorded patient histories on laptops or tablets during patient visits. Data entry is much more robust, accurate, and less time-consuming. The consistency in record-keeping, as doctors and staff can type up medical records, continues to improve instead of depending on interpreting handwritten records.
Maintaining, learning, and adapting to the new technology comes as an uphill battle for the veterinary industry. One example of the impact of technology lies in the migration of paper medical records to electronic. In 2015, I led the practice I managed through an electronic medical record (EMR) conversion, as well as numerous other veterinary practices. As medical record management improves, many believe the quality of care has also. Well-written medical records allow for more fluid communication and continuous care because the records are legible, consistent, and follow a formatted layout. A common issue with an EMR conversion across multiple hospitals always falls back on the training of staff on how to use the medical record management system, emphasizing the importance of developing best practices when it comes to communication procedures with clients and with the veterinary team.
Nowadays, telemedicine visits have been introduced in veterinary practices because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many ways in which telemedicine visits can alleviate the communication barriers present with limited face-to-face contact, but is the veterinary industry ready to take this on?
Have you started using telemedicine visits in your practice, and found beneficial ways to incorporate this into your daily practices? Have you found communication methods that work in your veterinary practice, with the multiple modes of communication? I would love to hear what you have found works and does not when communicating with clients and veterinary teams!
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