It happens occasionally that a new client enters my exam room usually having been through a vet or two or three in the past few years and is guarded and not very forthcoming with information or wanting to engage in much banter at all for that matter. I am always excited about the prospect of a new client: a new relationship with a person, couple or entire family, new pets to do everything my medical team and I can do to keep more pets healthy with our brand of integrative veterinary medicine, and I am not going to lie: an ever growing client base is good for business. Veterinary clinics are after all are small businesses whose existence relies on clients and their pets.
I am a naturally extroverted person…my medical team is often frustrated because I can be a bit of a “chatty Cathy” when in the exam room and run behind. With a new client, I am eager to learn about their pet(s) history, how they came into their lives, and even learn a bit about them personally (new to the area, where from, etc.).
The inspiration for this post came from an experience I had this past Saturday when a new client came in with 2 dogs. I was my normal extroverted self in an extra good mood having enjoyed 2 weeks off on vacation with my family. The lady answered my medical history questions politely enough, but kike the clients I described earlier, was guarded and in possession of records from 3 previous vets in the past 3 years. Still, I was not concerned, not everyone is a social butterfly like me, especially on immediate introductions.
As I reported my findings on the standard examination that is part of the yearly well visit on one of her dogs that he suffered from severe dental disease (grade 4 out out 4, pretty much the worst condition teeth can be in), I saw her demeanor change, any semblance of smile gone, and she began rolling her eyes. He was a very nice dog, so I was able to point out to the owner the severe gum recession, exposed tooth roots, and puss oozing from the dog’s deep gum pockets. She tersely stated to me that she is well aware of the bad teeth and that she does not need to hear another veterinarian lecture her about them because she simply cannot afford to get the necessary work done to fix the problem.
After 16 years of practice, I have been there, done that, so many times and I (usually) remain unphased by a such a reaction and in fact, feel more often that not empathy toward the client in circumstances such as these than anything. I calmly told this owner that she need not be concerned, that I am not judging her, just merely reporting my findings, as it is my job to do so. I told her that I have no right to judge her, as I have not lived one moment in her shoes and that seeing her lovingly interact with her dogs and the mere fact that she had them both in my exam room to provide whatever level of well care that she could afford told me that she clearly loves them. I told her that I will have the attending technician work her up a treatment plan for a dental for the dog that also estimates associated cost and that we are here for her to schedule at her convenience in he event that she could budget for the extensive dental work. We also discussed some plan B palliative care and gave her a brochure for a medical lending service called Care Credit to look into. This new client left happy and thanked me for understanding her and not judging her.
The truth is that most veterinarians are very empathetic people, although, some veterinarians do not communicate that well. Our biggest frustration in practice is when financial concerns get in the way of a treatment plan that we know will genuinely help a pet’s quality of life or even save his/her life. That frustration can sometimes be misconstrued as frustration toward the client but more often than not, it is frustration at being handcuffed by a client’s inability to pay for the gold standard of care we all wish to practice.
Yet we must always continue to offer the gold standard of care for the many clients that have the ability or find the ability to pursue it…and would even be angry with us if we cut corners to presume that they would sacrifice any level of care for reduced cost. When the gold standard is offered and after the client reviews it and determines that he/she cannot afford it, we then discuss plan B, C, or even D…but I never presume that a person wants anything less than the best than modern veterinary medicine and I as a practitioner can offer.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.