Trust in the Veterinary Practice

Just a quick note before my exposition for this week. I probably won’t be posting on Thursday January 17th. I’m positive I won’t be posting on Sunday, January 20th. I have another commitment that is going to keep me away from the computer on those days. I’ll be back on January 24th!

Nurses, doctors, and veterinarians consistently rank highly in polls that ask people which professions are the most trusted. It makes sense for the most part. Those of us trained to help and heal are the sort of personalities, in general, that engender trust. We have to work with people to overcome problems centered on health and well-being. It’s difficult to get more personal than that, and that level of intimacy creates trust.

I’m extremely grateful for the trust extended to me by clients (and pets!). We’re allowed to make recommendations for the care of an important family member. We often have to take a pet away from the owner’s immediate presence to draw blood or perform surgery. While it’s clear that some owners are uncomfortable with this, they still allow it. Make no mistake, I understand just how much weight this trust carries. I don’t take it for granted.

Mistakes happen, complications arise, misunderstandings occur. We’re left having to work out very difficult circumstances in the midst of intense emotions. Most of the time, the trust we’ve built allows an honest, open discussion about what has happened and what can/should/must be done to move forward.

I will state clearly that there are unscrupulous, dishonest people in every profession, including my own. There’s a question of degrees when we compare dishonesty in advertising or sales to dishonesty in medical practice. In medicine, lives can be at stake. The violations of trust are far more damaging when a person discovers that his/her medical professional is acting unethically. This is rightfully so.

This leaves us in a position in which we all admit that there are jerks out there that you have to watch out for. It also leaves us with the encouraging statistics that most vets have properly earned and maintained a trusting relationship with their clients. With that trust, we can accomplish more as a team caring for a particular pet. Everybody wins! How often do you hear that phrase? Not as much as you’d like, I bet.

The frustration arises when that trust hasn’t been established. Clients are wary. I understand that in most cases. We may be seeing a pet for the first time, or personalities may not mesh well, or new staff members may be helping a client. There are times when a preferred vet or staff member isn’t available. There may be an emergency that requires immediate action and decisions. A receptionist may take a call for an important or urgent question. All of these circumstances happen frequently. It’s the unfortunate nature of medical practice most often. New circumstances require new trust-building. I acknowledge that.

Here are the sticking points, though. Some clients refuse to get to know new staff members. They refuse to tell a receptionist what their concerns are. They refuse to see anyone but their preferred vet. They refuse treatment recommendations because they “just don’t believe that’s necessary.”

I’ll be frank in expressing my side of the story. This kind of behavior can do two things. It can endanger a pet, which in my opinion is unforgivable. Our personal issues shouldn’t get in the way of helping an animal that can’t speak for itself. Secondly, refusing to accept what a vet has relayed through a receptionist or a tech feels, from my side of things, that an owner thinks vets are employing dishonest, unreliable or improperly trained staff.

Not trusting staff hurts me on a personal level, especially when it’s one of our technicians. I’m responsible for their training at the practice. We push them -hard- and they’re required to know a LOT more than at most other practices I’ve seen/heard/worked. I trust them with my own pet.

Okay, deep breath here. Again, I deeply appreciate clients that are dedicated to a particular vet or staff member. It’s a vote of confidence that we’re grateful for. I also understand that when clients aren’t familiar with how things work at a given practice, it’s harder to have faith in the system.

I’m still firm in stating that when I delegate instructions or decisions to our highly trained staff, the client is getting information from the veterinarian. The buck stops with us, always. I also think it’s a very good idea to get to know more than one of the vets at the practice, just in case someone’s unavailable on a given day.

The vets at Pet Authority do their absolute best to be available for clients at all times. We certainly don’t prefer to hide out and not have direct contact. I’m pretty proud of the fact that most times, we -can- directly interact. For those occasions that we can’t get right to a call or a concern, I’ll summarize with what I see as a way to bridge the trust gap.

I’d like clients to feel that they can express their concerns about speaking with or meeting someone they’re not familiar with. (If it’s done politely.) They should also be willing to work with someone new. After all, the only way to gain trust is to work with someone and get to know her. Please understand that our staff does not act on their own without first verifying instructions from the doctors.

Our staff will acknowledge concerns and provide a way to build trust. The staff will tell an owner that they’ve spoken with the doctor, or have had an available doctor review the case to provide an answer. (Which is exactly what they already do. 🙂 ) They offer to follow up later to make sure things are getting better and that all concerns have been addressed. When something comes up that a staff member feels uncomfortable with, the doctors are notified and will speak with a client.

This is truthfully the coolest part about working where I do. We’ve got a great group dedicated to the best outcomes for our patients. They have my trust. I’m honored to have clients’ trust. We’re all working toward a common goal: healthy pets.



Filed under ethics, human interest, practice

2 responses to “Trust in the Veterinary Practice

  1. Sue and John Foster

    Great point, well stated (as always)!

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