A question that opens the door to better patient care

Ask veterinary clients, "How long do you want your pet to live?" Their answers can open the door to better care.
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Jun 01, 2012

Sometimes, a little change can make all the difference. At a temperature of 33 degrees Fahrenheit, water falling from the sky is just another rainy day. But at 32 degrees, those raindrops turn into snowflakes—creating a child's winter wonderland full of snowballs, sledding and hot cocoa. Likewise, at 211 degrees Fahrenheit, water is simply very hot. Add just one degree and you create steam, forceful enough to power trains and ships.


Gerald Snyder, VMD
Veterinary practices are no different. Most, in my observation, are underpowered by as little as one "degree" or so. That's why management consultants can bring about powerful changes. We see between the cracks. We see opportunities being missed and help the practice to implement them. And like steam, we help power a practice out of the doldrums and back into productivity and profitability.

Keep it simple

Here's one technique we use: Ask each client a very simple question. It's a question that is almost never asked and yet can help increase communication and efficiency. It is not a trick question but a deceptively simple one. Here it is: "How long would you like your pet to live?"


Table: Pet’s age in human years based on adult weight
Clients probably have never thought about this before, though many really need to. It sets the stage for your entire relationship.

Many will answer, "As long as possible!" Perhaps a Great Dane owner will say, "20 years." A poodle owner may reply, "10 years." A simple chart on the wall (like the one provided below) will help to reveal the pet's current human equivalent age. At this point, the client will see that the Great Dane is unlikely to make it to twenty years and the poodle may be around a lot longer than expected.

Now is your opportunity to begin conversations focused on earlier geriatric care for the Great Dane and the (seemingly never-ending) dental care required for poodles. Low-sodium diets can be discussed along with any number of preventive care topics. All these points are unleashed by one simple question.

Likewise, after entering the exam room, every technician should ask clients, "Do you know how old Fluffy is in human years?" and show them the wall chart. Simple, isn't it?

So ask yourself: How many degrees of effort does it take to have a framed poster in your exam rooms? Keep it as straightforward as possible. For example: "Give your pet the gift of life. Pets whose chronic dental disease is treated live two to four years longer than those who don't receive regular periodontal treatment."

Of course, you might get an answer to "How long do you want your pet to live?" that floors you. Once, a client told me his daughter dragged a puppy home when she was 14 years old and insisted on keeping it. It cost him a fortune to get rid of the hookworms and heartworms. The daughter went off to college and couldn't take the dog with her, so he "babysat" for four years. After college, she announced that she was going into the Peace Corps—meaning the dog was his for another three years. While she was overseas, she met and married a young man who was severely allergic to dogs. He was stuck with the dog for another four years. He told me, "It's a nice dog, but we never wanted one. I suppose we sort of like him, but I don't want him to live one day longer than he has to!"

Yet for each client like this, there are scores of others who will sacrifice their vacation money rather than see their family member go without procedures to extend their lives.