6 tips to help pets heal at your veterinary practice

Use this advice to communicate with pet owners more effectively and offer appropriate follow-up care when pets have wounds that won't heal.
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Dec 01, 2012

Weepy. Oozing. Crusty. Pus-filled. Wounds can be nasty business, and when they're slow to heal, you often face emotional, concerned, and even frustrated clients. One of clients' first concerns is whether their pet's wound can heal, says Danielle Browning, LVT, who works at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, Tenn. Consider these tips to calm their fears:

1. Build relationships.

"Wound healing is an art," Browning says. "There are various ways to do it to get to the same result, but it's a matter of staying on top of it. So it's important to have relationships so pet owners trust you, that they know they can call you anytime, and that you're following up with them."

2. Offer written instructions.

Pet owners may look like they're paying attention, but in truth they're often overwhelmed, both by the amount of information you're offering and the feelings your words bring up. Remember, you're telling them their pets have wounds that may take a long time to heal—or may never heal.

3. Talk about money.

No one enjoys this conversation, but it's vital to prepare pet owners—who may have already invested a lot of money on their pet's health already. "In our business, you usually don't have a separate office that talks to the client about money," Browning says.

4. Give the "why."

"Pet owners need to understand why you're doing each step," Browning says. "If they don't know why you're doing what you're doing, they may not think it's that important."

For example, consider pet cones. If owners don't use cones of the appropriate length—or don't use cones at all—the pet may chew the wound and add another month to its healing. "People don't want to be the cause of their pets' discomfort," Browning says. "Make sure they understand why you recommend the cone."

5. Respect your clients.

While the pet's health is important to pet owners, it's not the only thing going on in their lives. Browning says team members can help by taking the initiative to make follow-up calls. Simple questions, such as, "Are you keeping the bandage dry?" and "Is he tolerating his medications?" are very important. "If you don't prompt them with open-ended questions, they may not even think of it until they come in for their recheck and you discover a week later that the pet has only been sporadically receiving its antibiotics."

It's also important to focus on being empathetic, Browning says. For example, she says making a goal to work with the owner's schedule instead of what's most convenient for you can help ease the burden on clients.

6. Prepare for emotional clients.

In the cases of cancer and hospice patients, pet owners are often focused on making sure their pets are comfortable and maintain a sense of dignity. They may also struggle with the issue of deciding when it's time to let go.

Finally, remember your team must communicate fluidly about patient care throughout your practice. "You have to communicate well, and pet owners must feel comfortable and know what's going on," she says.

Portia Stewart is a freelance writer in Lenexa, Kan. Share your thoughts and tips at http://dvm360.com/community.