Patients typically don’t visit their veterinarian when they’re feeling great. In fact, it’s typically the exact opposite. Outside of annual wellness visits, the average animal that passes through your practice’s doors is visiting because they’re sick, injured, or otherwise needing care. As a result, the person bringing that patient in for the visit is usually stressed and concerned on behalf of their pet. This dynamic can create a delicate situation for the veterinarian as they may be interacting with animals and owners who aren’t at their best (physically or emotionally). While the care provided for ill or injured animals within the exam room is invaluable, interacting with clients in a positive manner outside of the exam room is also important for all involved: the veterinarian, client, patient, and practice.
Why Does It Matter?
Ultimately, interacting with clients outside the practice doesn’t result in practicing better medicine. It isn’t essential to upholding your veterinary oath, it won’t deliver better treatment outcomes, and if you’re a practice owner, it realistically won’t make or break your clinic’s success. So why are we bothering to discuss it at all? When it comes to ensuring that animals are happy and healthy, clients and veterinarians are on the same team. As the person spending the most time with the animal, it’s on the client to identify when the animal seems distressed, injured, or ill, and it’s their responsibility to get veterinary care for that animal if something seems amiss. On the flip side, it’s the veterinarian’s responsibility to assess and treat the animal to the best of their ability. And while neither of those sets of responsibilities requires outside-of-treatment experiences to make the “team” of the veterinarian and the client function, those experiences can serve a valuable purpose. If veterinarians and clients only interact in the exam room, that’s all they ever are to each other. And if a veterinarian is simply viewed as an expert wearing scrubs and a client is strictly seen as the person driving the animal to get treatment and pay the bill, a crucial element falls by the wayside: the human element.
Losing that human element can come with serious consequences. When we fail to truly see each other as humans with unique thoughts, feelings, and emotions, we communicate more harshly than we intend; and instead of working side by side on the same team to ensure the best outcome for the patient, we might find ourselves in opposite corners.
Bridging the Gap
Now, we aren’t recommending that you force friendships with your clients and start inviting them to hang out on the weekend. In fact, we strongly encourage you to stay within the bounds of your professional relationship. While staying within these boundaries might limit the actions you can take, even small, seemingly unimportant activities that occur outside of treatment can go a long way in building a relationship in which the clients see you not only as the expert who cares for their pet, but a person deserving of respect and gratitude.
Examples of Ways to Interact with Clients Outside Treatment
There’s a good chance your practice is already doing some of these activities and for that, we applaud you! Read on to discover additional ways to increase your engagement with clients.
- Participate in or be a sponsor for community events. Regardless of whether you practice in an urban area, suburb, or somewhere more rural, it's likely that your city or town hosts local events. You and your team may consider taking part in charity runs and walks, beach or park clean-ups, art or food festivals, or a trivia night. The key is to pick an activity that allows you to interact with community members. In addition to serving as a great team bonding opportunity, participating in events like these comes with the added benefit of community exposure, networking, and socializing.
- Enhance your appointment reminders to contain bios on the treating veterinarian. Emailing appointment reminders is standard practice for many veterinary clinics. Oftentimes, these reminders include the time, reason for the appointment, and name of the veterinarian providing treatment. While the practice’s website may also contain brief bios on all staff, there’s no guarantee that clients are actually seeing them. Providing short, friendly bios in the reminder email is a great way to share that information and humanize your team. Though it might seem trite, providing personal yet appropriate information- “Dr. Ann Apple attended School A for undergrad and School B for veterinary school. She’s practiced medicine for 11 years and enjoys cooking and hiking with her two dogs, Freckles and Berry”- is an almost effortless way to connect with your clients before the appointment ever happens.
- Create and actively maintain a social media account. Having a Facebook or Instagram account is fairly common for most veterinary practices. If you haven’t already established one, we recommend that you do. Running a social media account allows you to post photos of cute patients (always with owner permission), share staff updates from around the practice, and interact with other practice locations if you’re part of a larger group. It also is an easy way to share tips for owners, hiring announcements, scheduling changes, and more.
- Hold seasonal contests (such as Halloween or holiday costume contests for pets). Occasional contests are a great way to engage with clients in a fun, light-hearted manner. Announce contests via email or social media, and post announcements in the clinic lobby. Be sure to have your staff and their pets participate in the contest as well, and share photos acquired in the contest on social media, in any monthly newsletters, and perhaps even printed out and displayed at the clinic (again, always with owner permission).
- Create a recurring newsletter full of positive reminders, interesting articles and updates, and owner-friendly topics. Of the five suggestions, this one no doubt requires the most time and energy; but it also comes with some of the biggest rewards. If creating a monthly digital newsletter seems like too big of a project, consider every six weeks, every other month, or even quarterly. Newsletters from the practice keep your clinic top of mind for clients even when their animals are happy and healthy. It also allows you to pass along pet-relevant articles, staff profiles, holiday well-wishes, fun quizzes, pet-friendly recipes, and whatever other information excites or intrigues you. If you keep the tone friendly, educational, and imbued with your practice’s unique personality, a newsletter can be a great way to stay in touch with your clients in-between visits.
This list is by no means exhaustive. We bet you can think of many other ways to interact with clients outside the practice. But by choosing one or two items from this list (or from your own list!), you’ll be taking a big step towards bridging the gap between veterinarian and client and in turn, creating the best team possible for the animals you’ve devoted your career to.