They swipe and slash, claw and needle. They poke and prick and push and prod. Sometimes their roars make you angry. Often
their bites hurt. We've all dealt with abusive clients, usually on a personal level. Like most creatures, even mild-mannered
clients can attack when they feel cornered or confused. The following examples are real cases from my experience as a receptionist,
a veterinary assistant, and finally a licensed technician. For each scenario I've encountered, you'll find an example of how
my team responded to soothe the savage beast. Not all the stories have happy endings, but we did our best to handle the situation
professionally and attempt to retain clients who proved they weren't repeat offenders.
Walk the tightrope
The client who blames the team for his or her own mistakes
Mr. Knows Best blasts into the hospital snapping because he's already run through his two-week prescription of antibiotics
for his beloved cat, Wigglesworth. When we try to soothe the client, we realize the 1 ml of medication that was to be given
twice daily is actually being drawn up as 1.5 ml. It helps to defuse the situation by saying, "It's an easy mistake" and offering
to, just this time, provide a free refill.
To avoid these situations, it's key to clearly show the correct dose with a syringe or tablet before the client leaves the
exam room. It may be helpful to mark the syringe with a sharpie at the appropriate measurement or to pre-cut tablets. Not
only will this prevent client errors, it will show you don't mind going an extra step for client satisfaction and ease. And
don't forget, it's important for the doctor or technician to explain the possible side effects of an overdose.
Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for clients to misunderstand or fail to follow your care instructions. Consider the case
of Sammy the beagle. He comes in covered in ticks and experiencing lameness. Dr. Kind prescribes an antibiotic. A few weeks
later, an enraged client storms into the waiting area, claiming Dr. Kind made Sammy even sicker, since he vomits daily on
the medication and isn't showing signs of improvement. The client admits she administered the medication without food, despite
the "give with food" label on the vial.
It may be difficult to defuse a situation like this, but it's important to avoid blaming clients if they've made an error
that could potentially hurt their furred family member. In this situation the team apologized, even though they had offered
proper instructions from the start. They explained Sammy was most likely not even keeping the medication down, so the client
should try the medication again while giving it on a full stomach. Once the client understood what was happening with her
pet, she was much calmer and willing to try again.
A quick note: To protect the practice from any unwarranted lawsuits, the hospital team should always make note in the client's
record of verbal, as well as written, instructions and keep a copy of the prescription in the file. In this case, the direction
to give with food should be included as part of the prescription.
Let's look at one more example of an angry client who didn't follow instructions. Mrs. Debbie Doesn't-Listen brings Max in
with damaged pads from walking on hot pavement. After we clean up the pads, we bandage them and tell Mrs. Doesn't-Listen to
place plastic bags over the bandages to keep them dry when it rains. Max visits the next day with soaked bandages that are
barely staying on. Mrs. Doesn't-Listen is very upset. She yells at the team members who placed the bandages, saying, "You
have no idea what you're doing."
In this case, it helped to have the doctor talk to the client and explain she'd personally watched the placement of the bandages,
and it was performed thoroughly. She explained that the bandages did look wet and asked if the client placed bags on Max's
feet when it rained. The client admitted she didn't, and the doctor calmly explained this is probably why the bandages weren't
staying on. We offered to re-bandage and reminded her to cover the bandages with plastic bags. The client, in this case, willingly
paid for the re-bandaging once she realized her mistake.