The dogs we share our lives with are more than just “pets”. Along with a healthy diet, adequate exercise and lots of love, your canine needs you to build a strong relationship with your veterinarian. After all, next to you, the vet is often the most important person in your dog’s life!
Establishing a positive rapport with your veterinarian involves several things, not least of which is being a good client. Having worked in client services at high-traffic veterinary hospitals in Los Angeles, I understand how important it is for vets and clients to work together harmoniously. Here are four ways to help ensure a good relationship with your dog’s doctor.
1. Be prepared
People often worry that the meticulous notes and spreadsheets they bring with them to appointments will make them appear anal and unappealing to clinic staff. But fear not: veterinarians are tremendously grateful for your diligence.
“The most important thing is the dog’s history,” says veterinarian and certified acupuncturist Dr. Robert Rizzitano. “Because we cannot ask our patients questions, we need answers from the owners.”
Having a solid foundation of information from the animal’s person helps veterinarians narrow down what needs to be done to diagnose and treat a problem. “We obviously can’t do everything,” says Dr. Rizzitano. Needless testing is a waste of the veterinarian’s time, and your money. But most importantly, it’s the dog that suffers most when exposed to numerous tests and treatments, many of which might be avoided with a preface from you on how he has been doing lately.
In general, most vets will want to know the following:
• Has your dog been experiencing any additional symptoms other than the primary concern that brought you to the clinic?
• Is he improving or getting worse?
• How long has this issue been going on?
2. Be compliant
“Many times, clients will end up back at the veterinary office for problems that could have been avoided with simple compliance and care,” says Erika Berlant, who has managed a handful of busy animal hospitals in the southwest US. Dr. Rizzitano concurs, adding that complying with a doctor’s treatment plan is especially vital when dealing with chronic management cases, including skin problems, cancer, eye conditions, and cardiac and endocrine disorders. “When we’re dealing with a cold, that’s not critical,” he says. “But in the instance of a chronic illness, making follow-up visits, giving medications correctly and not skipping doses are all important.” In fact, they could mean the difference between life and death for your beloved friend.
3. Be patient
Dr. Rizzitano empathizes with his clients and patients, and understands the fragile emotional state people may be in when they show up at his clinic, especially in an emergency situation. “We always do our best to accommodate them,” he says. This means that hospital rules keeping clients out of treatment and surgery areas do not originate from annoyance or intolerance, but simply as a requisite for maintaining patient safety.
In an emergency situation, it’s best to wait patiently in the exam or waiting room, as difficult as this may be. Encroaching into restricted areas, despite your intense desire to check on your companion, is disruptive to the doctors, your dog, and the other patients under treatment. Dr. Rizzitano soothes frazzled clients who make their way past “staff only” signs by kindly reminding them: “We are trying to do the best thing for your dog, and the best thing you can do is let us do our job.”
While in the waiting room, unless you have an urgent question, give the receptionists and support staff their space. Try not to anxiously hover or tap your fingers, but rather leave the space in front of the reception desk clear so that someone else with an emergency can approach. Standing aside will also alleviate the receptionist’s stress, leaving him or her more level-headed and able to handle your concerns.
4. Be present
As already mentioned, your dog’s history is the most important resource for helping your veterinarian treat him. Therefore, it’s best for you to attend the veterinary appointment alongside your animal. If you must send someone in your place, such as a friend, relative or personal assistant, make sure to prep your proxy! Often, according to Dr. Rizzitano, the replacement does not even know why the dog is there.
Having someone else attend the session can be further complicated when that person does not have authorization from you to make treatment decisions. If you are in a pinch and must send someone else in your place, arm the replacement with a thorough history of your dog and make yourself available by phone.
Another issue Dr. Rizzitano describes as “a little disruptive and challenging” is when a client is on his or her cell phone during an examination. Not only does this distract the doctor from his or her job, but it wastes your money as well. A wellness exam is a great time to ask the doctor any questions you may have, and to receive helpful instructions and tips on how to best care for your dog. So unless you are expecting an urgent call, resist the urge to be a “digital diva”, and silence your cell phone in the exam room.
What about the ultimate transgressions that will leave clinic staff talking about you for weeks? “There are none,” Dr. Rizzitano laughs, “unless you’re absolutely inebriated or psychotic and we have to call in law enforcement!” But even without the fear of being a hot topic in the break room, it’s important to be prepared, compliant, patient and present when working with your local animal hospital. Your vet – and your dog – will thank you for it!