Singing the heartworm heartache and Lyme disease blues
When you're facing a client whose pet has just received a diagnosis of a serious condition, such as heartworm infection or Lyme disease, it's important to focus on the problem at hand and move forward with treatment, says Nancy Potter, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and the practice manager at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan. "It serves no one to place blame or make the client feel guilty," she says. "Clients who know and understand that their noncompliance caused the problem will be dealing with their own guilt without us making them feel worse."
For example, you should avoid saying things like, "If you had followed Dr. Smith's recommendations and given Gus his heartworm medication, we wouldn't be having this conversation now." A better approach might be, "Mrs. Jones, Gus has tested positive for heartworm disease. Dr. Smith has prepared a treatment plan that outlines the steps we will take to treat Gus's condition, and he will be here in a minute to speak with you about Gus's care. What questions can I answer?"
Next, you'll begin the education process to help clients care for their sick pets. For example, with heartworm infection you'll teach the client about how the injections work and why it's important to keep the pet quiet and confined."We've been talking as a team lately about how telling stories can hit home," Potter says. "In these cases, team members can share how other clients have handled the situation and stories about pets that have recovered."
Besides the guilt these clients feel, they're also facing the expense of treatment and the lifestyle change it will take to be sure Gus follows the treatment plan for a successful recovery, Potter says. The best thing team members can do is to educate the client and be supportive during treatment. Focus on what's in the best interest of the pet, and perhaps you can share Gus's story with pet owners to prevent another dog from undergoing heartworm treatment.
Follow-up phone calls can also help pet owners as they navigate their pet's disease. For example, you might say, "Hi, Mrs. Jones, I just wanted to check on Gus. Do you have any questions?"
Then, when treatment is complete, it's important to make sure pet owners offer the protection their pets need to avoid these illnesses in the future, Potter says. And if treatment isn't successful, make sure you offer condolences.
A final note: Potter says when a client declines a veterinarian-recommended service or product, such as heartworm medication, be sure to note this in the medical record. This way, they won't be able to come back later and say, "You never told me about this."