Attack veterinary clients' anesthesia fears

When clients hesitate to have their pet put under, be primed to pounce on their misconceptions, bat down myths about anesthesia, and strike back with facts and recommendations customized to their pet's condition.
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Oct 01, 2012

"Surgery" is a scary word for clients, and when the veterinarian recommends a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia, it's all too common for clients to worry about their pet's safety. Striking back at their fears and reassuring clients can sometimes be more difficult than dealing with clients' financial woes. Although anesthesia seems ordinary to us, to a client it can be frightening.


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I know the feeling. And you probably do, too. Anytime my pets have undergone dental procedures, the night before—and the day of the procedure—have been nerve-wracking. I know we have a great, competent team at our hospital and reliable, up-to-date monitoring equipment. I've seen my pets' preoperative blood work, but I'm still nervous.

Now imagine being a pet owner who doesn't already have this knowledge of the team, monitoring equipment, and preoperative measures. It's no wonder they hesitate. Often we forget that our clients don't have this understanding of our precautions with anesthetic cases, and we may skim over the details in our discussions. Some clients may even postpone procedures time after time and never disclose that their real concern is fear of anesthesia because we never start the dialogue. We review the cost, the reasons for and the benefits of the procedure, and drop-off and pick-up times, but we all could probably improve our discussion about the safety of anesthesia.

Remember, these discussions can occur not just with the veterinarian, but also with credentialed technicians, assistants, and receptionists. Let's look at some common client questions about anesthesia and how to respond with reassurance.

1. How often do pets experience complications from anesthesia?


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Although any anesthetic procedure has an element of risk, it's fairly uncommon. Studies have suggested that the risk of anesthetic death is about 1 in 2,000 for healthy, normal pets. For those pets that may have a pre-existing disease, the number increases to 1 in 500. To make this number stand out even more, remember that's a range of 0.05 percent to 0.2 percent—a very small percentage.

If your hospital possesses state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and a knowledgeable, continually learning team, don't be shy about touting this information to clients. Veterinary hospitals can vary greatly in their anesthetic care, so make sure your hospital stands apart from the rest and—at the very least—keeps team members educated on anesthetic procedures and complications. This may be a perfect time to explain to pet owners about the schooling and advanced training your licensed veterinary technicians undergo to be well versed in anesthesia.

Remember, to many pet owners, there's the doctor and then there's the rest of the team. They may feel reassured when they understand the doctor isn't the only trained medical professional on the team. If your hospital has a veterinary technician specialty (VTS) in anesthesia or surgery, mention this to clients.

2. I've heard that some people feel the pain of the procedure while under anesthesia. Could this happen to my pet?

Incorporating analgesics in your pre-, intra-, and postoperative protocol is important. Explain your protocol to clients. And assess patients' pain regularly using a consistent scale. Consider using CRIs for more painful procedures to maintain a constant, even level of pain management.

Assure clients that technicians know what to look for as far as signs of pain during the procedure—elevated respiratory and heart rates, for example—as well as after surgery. A pain-free patient is every staff member's top priority.