Archive for the ‘Client expectations’ Category

Reasonable Expectations V: Discussion of All Options Regardless of Cost

October 24, 2010

This is the fifth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through four can be found at http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

Veterinarians wear many different hats when they are in the exam room. It’s a given they provide medical care for their patients. But did you realize that, for their clients they often assume the role of social worker, calendar planner, grief counselor, and even mediator when there are conflicting opinions between family members (mostly spouses)? Why on earth some veterinarians wish to also become financial planners for their clients is beyond me! These are vets who pick and choose which medical and surgical options to discuss based on what they think their clients can afford.

I don’t work this way- I believe in presenting every option that is reasonable for my patient and then letting my client determine what they can and cannot afford. This means that my client will hear all the same options whether he or she arrives at my hospital driving a Mercedes Benz sports car or a jalopy. The American Animal Hospital Association agrees with my modus operandi- they conducted a study documenting that ninety percent of people want their vets to present every option regardless of cost. Please hear what this is saying: it is perfectly reasonable for you to expect discussion of all options for your precious family member regardless of cost!

Let’s consider the example of a torn cruciate ligament. The knee joint contains cruciate ligaments that are responsible for keeping the upper leg bone (femur) in alignment with the lower leg bone (tibia). Cruciate ligament tears commonly occur in large breed dogs and there are several options for treating this injury. The least expensive option is rest and anti-inflammatory medications, the cost of which might be a few hundred dollars over the course of a several months. This nonsurgical least expensive approach restores mobility and use of the leg, but predictably results in arthritis within the knee and chronic lameness. The most expensive option is one of two highly specialized surgical techniques (referred to as TPLO and TTA) performed by board certified veterinary surgical specialists. Such surgery is the very best bet for restoring complete lifelong soundness to the knee. Depending on where the dog lives (everything is more expensive in California!) the cost for this surgery is $3,000-$4,000. Tack on post-operative rehabilitation therapy (on an underwater treadmill) and add another $500-$1,000 to your bill. The “in between options” include various surgical procedures that many general practitioners perform. While they are less expensive ($1,000 to $2,000) such surgery is less likely to result in an arthritis-free knee. Treatment of cruciate ligament disease is a clear example of, “You get what you pay for.”

Now there are a number of factors to consider when determining the best treatment option for a torn cruciate ligament. Perhaps the dog is ancient and debilitated and the risk for general anesthesia and surgery is too great. Perhaps there are other medical issues that are likely to be life ending soon- in this situation it would be irresponsible to choose surgery. There are many factors to consider, and finances may be one of them. But how would you feel if discussion of medical therapy for your dog’s cruciate ligament tear was purposefully withheld because your vet assumed you could afford surgery? Likewise, what if there was no discussion of referral to a surgical specialist because your vet felt it would be too much of a financial stretch for you? Do you want your veterinarian to be your financial planner or would you prefer to hear about all the options, then decide for yourself? Let me know how you feel about this. By the way, it might be wise to let your own veterinarian know as well!

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.  

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller. 

You can support your favorite rescue group.  The Speaking for Spot Gives Back Program shares a portion of the sales proceeds with approved non-profit organizations when you purchase a book via the Speaking for Spot website and designate the organization at the time of purchase.

Reasonable Expectations Part IV: Communicating With Your Vet Via Email

September 27, 2010

This is the fourth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through three can be found at http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

Have you any interest in emailing rather than calling your vet when you have questions? This is certainly a reasonable expectation assuming that your vet is willing to communicate online. Email communication with doctors is not a new concept.  The Kaiser Permanente “My Health Manager” program with an “email my doctor” feature has been wildly successful.  Not only are more and more patients using the program (and Kaiser is promoting it in their marketing ads), a study on more than 30,000 Kaiser Permanente patients with high blood pressure and/or diabetes documented that those who communicated via email with their physicians enjoyed better health outcomes! 

I recently surveyed 120 of my northern California colleagues about email communication with clients and here is what I learned from them:

•58% of the vets who responded are communicating with their clients via email
•62% of those who use email are selective- they do not provide email access to all of their clients
•26% of those using email set “ground rules” with their clients; interestingly, many commented that they strongly feel the need to set email ground rules, but have been too “wimpy” to do so
•Receptionists communicate with clients via email in 37% of the practices polled
•Technicians (nurses) communicate with clients via email in 21% of the practices polled
•95% of the veterinarians who use email reported it to be a mostly positive experience

The veterinarians using email unanimously reported that it is great for simple, non-urgent communications (emphasis on non-urgent). Just imagine every veterinarian’s nightmare- you check your email in the evening and find a message that is eight hours old from a client describing their pet who is struggling to breathe and has blue gums!  Vets using email enjoy the convenience- for many, not only is email less time consuming than telephoning (avoids phone tag), they can respond to emails at their convenience.  I can relate to this- I sometimes don’t finish up with my patients until 8:30 or 9:00 at night at which point I’m worried that it may be too late to return client phone calls. 

Along with the fear of not receiving urgent messages in a timely fashion, here’s what the vets I surveyed told me they do not like about email:

•Clients wanting a diagnosis via email rather than via an office visit
•No simple or easy process for transferring the email communication to the patient’s medical record
•Too time consuming for vets who have remedial word processing skills or feel the need to carefully edit their “written words”
•Clients who take advantage of the system and begin emailing too much and/or too often
•Receipt of “cutesy” emails (photos or stories that are incredibly cute, but only in the mind of the sender)

I happen to be a speed demon when it comes to word processing, and I would love the flexibility of communicating with my clients in the wee hours of the morning or late into the evening.  So why have I not jumped on the email bandwagon?  If you’ve read Speaking for Spot you know that communication between veterinarians and their clients is a topic near and dear to my heart.  So much of what is perceived during communication has to do with body language and voice inflection, neither of which can be perceived via email (unless I begin Skyping with my clients, God forbid!). I worry that, by using email, I will miss out on what’s happening emotionally for my clients. Even with this concern, the results of my survey have motivated me to dip my baby toe into the email whirlpool.  I think I will invite my clients to email me with really simple questions such as, “When am I supposed to bring Lizzie back in to see you?” or “Is it okay to give Radar his heartworm preventative along with the other medications you prescribed?”  Anything more than that, however, and I’ll be jumping back onto the phone in the blink of an eye. 

Do you communicate with your vet or your physician via email?  If so, what has the experience been like for you?

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health. 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

You can support your favorite rescue group.  The Speaking for Spot Gives Back Program shares a portion of the sales proceeds with approved non-profit organizations when you purchase a book via the Speaking for Spot website and designate the organization at the time of purchase.

Reasonable Expectations Part III: Access to Round-the-Clock Care

September 12, 2010

This is the third part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets.Parts one and two can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

If your dog is sick enough to require hospitalization or has just undergone a major surgical procedure, how will he or she be cared for overnight and on weekends?  As much as the mere thought of this makes me cringe I must advise you that even though your dog or cat is “hospitalized”, in some veterinary clinics this will involve no supervision whatsoever from closing time at night (perhaps 6:00 PM) until early morning when the first employees arrive back at the hospital.  What if your dog manages to slip out of his Elizabethan collar and chews open his surgical incision? What if your kitty begins experiencing pain during the night?  What if your dog vomits and aspirates the material into his lungs? All these “what if’s” are what make me crazy whenever I think about a hospitalized animal left alone for 8 to 12 hours at a time.  And here’s what makes me even crazier- some people don’t think to even ask how their beloved family member will be supervised when the clinic is closed, likely because they cannot fathom the possibility that adequate supervision would not be provided.

Please know that it is perfectly reasonable for you to expect that your hospitalized family member receive round-the-clock care.  There are a few different ways this can happen.  While a 24-hour hospital staffed with a veterinarian is ideal, this simply does not exist in all communities (but if it does exist in your neck of the woods, by all means take advantage!).  Here are some other viable options:

-A veterinarian comes into the clinic multiple times during the night and on weekends to check on the hospitalized patients (some vets prefer to take their patients home with them to help make monitoring and supervision more convenient).

-A skilled veterinary nurse (technician) comes into the clinic multiple times during the night and on weekends to check on the hospitalized patients and has access to contacting the vet should the need arise.

-Your dog or cat comes home with you, but only after you receive thorough monitoring instructions along with a way to reach your vet should questions or concerns arise.  As scary as this might sound, this remains a better option than leaving your best little buddy left completely unsupervised overnight.  Just imagine how you would feel lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to intravenous fluids, and no one entering your room to check on you for twelve long hours!

How would your dog or cat be cared for overnight and on weekends should the need arise?  Please do tell.  And if you’re not sure, no time like the present to find out.

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations Part II: Access to “The Back” of the Hospital

September 4, 2010

This is the second part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets.  Part one can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog

Care to tag along next time your pet is whisked to “the back” of the veterinary clinic for an injection, a diagnostic test, or a nail trim? Perhaps you are curious about what actually goes on “back” there. Maybe you believe that your best buddy will feel more secure if you are present.  Whatever the reason, know that  if you desire to go where your pet goes and see what your pet sees, this is a perfectly reasonable expectation in most circumstances.   Your request might be denied if: 

-Your pet is better behaved without you there (all vets have experienced aggressive patients in the exam room who become gentle as lambs when separated from their humans).

-There is something going on that is private (for example, a grieving client) or too graphic for you to see (trust your vet on this one).

-Your dog or cat will be in an area of the hospital that is off limits to humans. For example, in my hospital, in order to avoid radiation exposure, no one other than the patient is allowed in the room where X-rays are taken.  Gentle sand bags are used for restraint along with mild sedation if needed.

– The staff is aware that you have a lot to say and no one will be able to get anything done because they will be too busy responding to your questions. 

Admittedly, some vets simply don’t like having clients tag along.  If your doc falls into this camp, some patient persuading on your part may be necessary.  Provide reassurances that you will be on your best behavior and remind him or her that large animal vets do practically all of their work in front of their clients.  I happen to love when my clients wish to accompany me into the bowels of the hospital.  In fact, I find myself inviting them to follow more often than they think to ask.  I prefer they get a first hand look at what I am doing and seeing, rather than simply listening to my after-the-fact verbal description.  Admittedly, I’m proud of my facility and feel great when clients see our bustling staff, content patients in clean, comfy cages, and state of the art diagnostic and patient monitoring equipment. 

Before my clients step foot beyond the exam room, I gently coach them on the art of being unobtrusive- avoiding instructing nurses on how to restrain their pet and asking a bazillion questions while I am performing a procedure.  I always reserve the right to send clients back to the exam room if I perceive that their anxiety level is becoming contagious, and I describe in advance what they will be seeing.  This deters some, which is a good thing- nothing like a fainting or vomiting client to get the day off to an exciting start! 

Have you ever accompanied your dog or cat to “the back” of the hospital?  Was it a good experience for you?  How about for your pet?

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health!

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com  to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations

August 28, 2010

Never before, during my almost 30 years as a veterinarian, have I encountered such rapid and profound changes in client expectations. We’ve entered what I like to refer to as “The Age of the Empowered Client”. I’d love to believe that this is a result of so many people reading my book, Speaking for Spot. Alas, I must give credit where credit is due- namely, the worldwide web. Discuss a symptom with my clients and I’m no longer surprised when they pull out their printed list of the diseases Dr. Google feels might be responsible. Render a diagnosis and my client can surf the net to quickly find a plethora of others who have “been there, done that” and are willing to provide advice about how best to navigate any possible medical minefield.

Do I believe these changes in client expectations are a good thing? You betcha! As I convey in Speaking for Spot, my belief is that every animal needs an empowered, adept medical advocate by its side. Of course I want veterinarians to remain essential members of the health care team, but I love it when those at the other end of the leash (or monkey-wrenching their backs schlepping cat carriers) become the team captains!

Over the next several weeks I will write about several previously uncommon client expectations that are now becoming mainstream. They are reasonable expectations in that they ultimately serve what clients and veterinarians hold as common ground- namely, the best interest of the patient. Remember, change is not for everyone- not all veterinarians necessarily “embrace” these changing expectations. Some gentle patience and persistence on your part may be needed. If you find your vet isn’t willing to budge, for your pets’ sake, I encourage you to find a new teammate.

I’m going to describe my favorite client expectation first because, once this expectation is fulfilled, satisfaction of most others will naturally follow. So here we go.  It is perfectly reasonable for you to expect “relationship centered care” from your veterinarian. This is a style of communication in which your vet holds your opinions and feelings in high regard and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them. He or she recognizes the unique role your pet plays in your life and is a willing source of empathy and support. Rather than telling you what to do, vets who practice relationship centered care discuss the pros and cons of all options before making a recommendation. They believe in collaborative decision making. Compare this to “paternalistic care” in which the vet maintains an emotional distance and recommends only what they believe is best without consideration of the patient’s or client’s unique situation. There are no significant opportunities for discussion or collaboration.

Relationship centered care is not for everyone- some people truly prefer to be told what to do (certainly the way I feel when my car is in need of repair!). However, if you desire relationship centered care from your vet (or for that matter your own physician), please know that this is a completely reasonable expectation. How do you find a veterinarian who employs this style of communication? At the risk of tooting my own horn, the chapter called “Finding Dr. Wonderful and Your Mutt’s Mayo Clinic” in Speaking for Spot will tell you everything you need to know to fulfill this expectation.

Do you work with a vet who provides relationship centered care? What do you like about his or her communication style?

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged best friend abundant good health!

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com  to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.