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Fostering Empathy in Veterinary Care: From First Call to Payment

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Hannah Kennedy | November 8, 2023

“How to make empathy a cornerstone of every interaction within your practice, starting with the initial phone call and continuing through to the final payment.”
9 min read
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    Embedded in the core of veterinary care is an unwavering commitment to ensuring clients consistently experience a sense of compassion and understanding, especially during their most trying moments, be it the delivery of distressing news or the heart-wrenching discussions surrounding euthanasia. Let us take you on a journey to discover how to make empathy a cornerstone of every interaction within your practice, starting with the initial phone call and continuing through to the final payment.

    Incorporating empathy into veterinary practice is not just about medical treatment; it's about connecting with pet owners during their most vulnerable moments.

    When it's time to deliver the bad news, it's essential to do so with sensitivity and a supportive presence, offering clear explanations and being patient with the owner's questions and emotions.

    During euthanasia, a deeply emotional time, creating a peaceful and respectful atmosphere is important. This can involve allowing the family to spend private time with their pet, offering comforting words, and sometimes, just being there to share the silence.

    Dr. Sabrina Kong DVM, Dog Trainer and Veterinary Consultant at WeLoveDoodles

    Embracing compassion from the very first phone call

    Teaching your staff to take their time during appointment booking can make all the difference. Encourage them to listen attentively and gather as much information as possible over the phone. This not only streamlines the appointment process for the actual visit, regardless of whether it’s a puppy's first vaccinations or end-of-life care, but also sets the stage for a more empathetic experience.

    For instance, if an owner calls in with a pet showing concerning symptoms like loss of interest in eating and drinking, extreme weakness, or seeking solitude, it's a sign that something may be seriously wrong. In such cases, booking a longer appointment without overlapping with other clients can be a compassionate move. This allows for ample time to discuss difficult options and provide support without rushing the process.

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    Creating a comfortable space

    Having the flexibility to create compassionate guardrails is vital. This means setting up the appointment in such a way that the owner and their pet can have privacy during this difficult time. It prevents them from encountering other patients or clients, and provides a more considerate environment for their emotional needs.

    For instance, consider the act of preparing a room in advance for a euthanasia. This thoughtful preparation involves laying down a soft blanket, ensuring the room is stocked with a box of tissues, offering glasses of water, and adding those personal touches that can truly make a world of difference to someone who is in the process of saying goodbye to a beloved family member.

    Taking it a step further, think about putting up a sign in your reception area during these moments. This can discreetly signal that a fellow pet parent is saying their final goodbye to a beloved furry friend. It's a simple touch that can make a big difference, as it prompts others to offer a kinder and quieter atmosphere, creating a supportive environment during those last tender moments.

    These seemingly small gestures can provide immense comfort during a difficult and emotional time. Planning Ahead and Settling Bills with Care

    When a pet owner reaches out to schedule a euthanasia appointment, emotions often run high, driving the natural desire for a swift resolution in an effort to ease their suffering. However, this initial interaction offers a unique opportunity for an extra layer of empathy.

    This can be done by gently posing a question, such as, "Would you prefer to explore options like cremation or memorial keepsakes, such as a pawprint, either now or on the day of the appointment?" or extending the option, "Is it convenient for me to contact you a day before your appointment? We can discuss these choices and provide an invoice that can be paid over the phone, via email, or through a text message. This way, on the actual day, your sole focus can be on treasuring those final moments with your beloved pet."

    These seemingly minor considerations can have a profound impact, lightening the emotional burden for pet owners during what is undoubtedly a challenging and emotionally charged time, by allowing them to settle everything in advance and removing the burden of those decisions from their mind ahead of time.

    Encouraging timely decisions

    In some situations, it's crucial to nudge pet owners toward making the right decisions promptly. If the symptoms are indicative of an urgent situation, guiding them towards an emergency veterinary hospital can be a life-saving step. By providing calm and empathetic guidance over the phone, you can help clients make the best choice for their pets.

    It is very hard to say goodbye to a loyal companion, and we are just humans susceptible to being overtaken by our emotions. In difficult times we might lose our ability to understand the difference between love and attachment.

    This is where empathy and compassion play a major role. As a veterinarian we can help owners to understand that preventing their pets' pain and suffering should be prioritized over our attachment to their presence.

    A combination of clearly explaining the patient's “possibilities” ( the disease's natural course vs extending the treatment, the pet’s quality of life, and the unnecessary suffering) and the difference between love versus attachment is what helps owners feel at peace and know they did what's best.

    Dr. Paola Cuevas, Veterinarian, MVZ, Behaviorist

    A supportive approach to appointments

    As veterinary professionals, it's absolutely okay to give yourself a moment to mentally prepare before engaging in a challenging conversation and to acknowledge your own emotions. After all, your journey in this field is fueled by care and the genuine desire to make a significant difference, and it's only natural that demanding situations will have an impact on you.

    When you're ready to step into the room, extending your clients a moment to gather their thoughts can be a genuinely compassionate gesture, especially if they seem distressed. This pause offers them a precious moment to process their emotions and compose themselves for the appointment that lies ahead.

    Once the conversation begins, it's beneficial to avoid using absolutes and instead employ open-ended questions. For example, ask, "What options would you like to consider?" This approach empowers pet owners to have a say in the decision-making process and helps them feel more comfortable and in control in a difficult situation.

    Let clients know that you understand their emotions. Phrases like, "I can see this news has upset you; it must be incredibly difficult to hear about your beloved pet's challenge," can offer comfort. By mirroring the client's body language and using empathetic verbal cues, you can create a more personal and supportive experience, even in the most stressful and difficult conversations.

    Whenever possible, offer time for reflection, unless immediate action is essential. Clients deeply care about their animals, and allowing them the opportunity to process and contemplate their options at their own pace helps them feel included in the decision-making process, and reassures them that their feelings matter.

    When it comes to delivering tough news, keep the introduction short and sweet, and always make sure you use the correct name and gender when referring to your patient. Approach the topic with a kind and honest touch, this spares them from any unnecessary buildup that might add to their anxiety as they wait for the news to be shared.

    Lastly, be prepared for diverse client reactions and normalize their feelings. You can express understanding by saying, "It's okay to be upset; many people react like this. Take a moment to breathe, and we can discuss the next steps." These small but considerate gestures make a significant difference in the client's experience, demonstrating your commitment to their well-being and that of their cherished pets.

    Prioritizing self-care: Caring for you and your team:

    After a particularly challenging appointment, it's essential to make self-care a priority, both for yourself and your dedicated team. Create a space where open discussions and vulnerability are encouraged among your staff. This will not only help everyone cope with the emotional toll of the job but also foster a supportive and empathetic environment within your veterinary practice.

    The final step: Pet pickup with heartfelt consideration

    As your client prepares to pick up their pet's ashes and cherished pawprints or select their desired cremation package, inquiring about their preferred pickup time becomes a considerate step. Ensuring a quiet and uncluttered lobby or arranging for their pet to be ready upon arrival can make the process smoother. Additionally, offering the option for them to call upon arrival and have a staff member deliver their pet to their car, allowing them to avoid having to enter the clinic's environment before they’re ready, can be a reassuring touch.

    Furthermore, having your team write a personalized card for the pet owner, sharing heartfelt sentiments and treasured memories of their furry companion, demonstrates genuine care. For those who have chosen not to receive their pet's ashes, mailing the card separately adds that final note of empathy and thoughtfulness.

    A veterinarian professional caring for a dog

    Payments with a personal touch

    Now, let's explore how Helcim's payment solutions can truly magnify empathy within your veterinary practice. The introduction of the Helcim Smart Terminal assumes a pivotal role in delivering compassion during moments of emotional distress, and here's how it can genuinely make a significant difference:

    Amidst the weight of difficult decisions during an appointment, the last thing a pet owner should grapple with is navigating a crowded front desk, laden with the emotional weight of the situation. The Helcim Smart Terminal offers a compassionate alternative, allowing payments to be discreetly processed within the privacy of an exam room.

    Offering this choice enables the owner to address the situation without additional stress. Once their payment is complete, they can smoothly exit the practice directly from the exam room, sparing them from further interactions or potential upset in the reception area.

    When coupled with the convenience of other Helcim payment offerings, including the ability to make payments over the phone or through pay-now invoices, texts, or emails, these options serve as a lifeline for clients during the most challenging moments of pet ownership. This not only empowers them to settle their bills in advance, enabling a focus on their pet's final moments, but also equips your staff to extend empathy, even from the administrative side of the practice.

    Closing Thoughts: Embracing Empathy

    In conclusion, creating a more empathetic experience in your veterinary practice is a journey that begins with the very first phone call and extends all the way to handling payments. By taking the time to understand the client's needs, providing compassionate-focused guardrails, and leveraging innovative payment solutions like Helcim's Smart Terminal, you can ensure that your clinic is a place of support and empathy during challenging times.

    Remember, every small gesture and consideration can make a world of difference to those who entrust their beloved pets to your care.

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