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Demonstrating the Value of Diagnostics Through Client Education

Karen E. Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, Felsted Veterinary Consultants, Dallas, Texas

May / June 2013|Web-Exclusive

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You’ve just finished examining a 12-year-old domestic shorthair cat that, according to the client, has lost weight and is drinking and urinating more than usual.

“Well, we might want to do some blood work, just to get a little better feel for what is going on with Socks,” you say. What kind of a response do you get? Does the client say: “Yes! Definitely! Here’s my credit card!” Or does she say: “Is that really necessary? Can’t you just send her home with some pills?”

Instead, what if you said: “We need to run a serum biochemistry profile today. We know that Socks has been drinking and urinating more than usual and has also lost weight, and we need to find out why. A number of diseases could cause this and the chemistry panel will let us diagnose her problem. Then we can formulate a treatment plan.”

Clients understand very little about their pet’s health and the need for veterinary care.

Clients understand very little about their pet’s health and the need for veterinary care. Therefore it is critical that veterinarians and other team members focus on client education. The well-being of our patients and our practice depend on it.

Recommendations for diagnostic tests are an important aspect of veterinary care, as their value can be easy to demonstrate to clients.  For example, clients are familiar with blood tests in humans, but they may not always make the connection that it is equally important for their pets. We can help clients understand the value of diagnostics—first by making recommendations clear, then by explaining their benefits.

When a veterinarian says, “Well, we might want to do some blood work,” the client may not understand that the recommendation is critical for the pet because it sounds like an option, not a necessity. A recent study1 demonstrated that owners are 7 times more likely to accept their veterinarians’ recommendation if the language used is clear and unambiguous. Explain to the client that his or her pet needs the blood work, and needs it today. However, veterinarians and their team members should also explain why the recommendation is important and beneficial for both the pet and owner. Clients, such as the example above, are much more likely to agree to blood work when they clearly understand its necessity and why it is necessary.

Once the diagnostic procedure is complete, it’s important to share the results with the client and reinforce  the necessity of the information. Don’t just say, “Socks has chronic renal disease and here is what we need to do.” Instead, say, “There are a number of diseases that kitties with Sock’s  signs often have, including diabetes and kidney disease. The blood chemistry results indicate Socks  has kidney disease, not diabetes. These diseases are treated very differently, so now we know which path to take to treat Socks. Here is what we need to do.”

We frequently communicate with clients verbally ; however, remember that not all clients learn best by hearing, and many need to hear things more than once to really process the information. Show clients the results as well as educating them on the importance of the tests. If you obtained radiographs, show the client your findings and explain what is and is not normal. If you completed blood work, show the client not only the report’s numerical results but also the graph. If you can, show the client how the patient’s values have changed since the last blood work. If you looked at a sample under the microscope, show the client the wiggling ear mites or the abnormal cells. Pictures and graphics help clients process information more than mere words.

Two of the most common questions from clients when a diagnostic procedure is recommended are: “Does Socks really need this test?” and “Why do you need to do this?” Including this information in the initial recommendation can immediately eliminate any uncertainty about the need for the procedure and makes it easier to move onto the client’s more detailed questions.

Communication Connection: Tools from AAHA
Connecting with Clients: Practical Communication for 10 Common Situations. 2nd ed. Durrance D, Lagoni L—Lakewood, Colorado: AAHA Press, 2010.

Educating Your Clients from A to Z: What to Say and How to Say It. 2nd ed. Boss N— Lakewood, Colorado: AAHA Press, 2011.

Exam Room Communication for Veterinarians: The Science and Art of Conversing with Clients. Klingborg J— Lakewood, Colorado: AAHA Press, 2012


1. Effect of veterinarian–client–patient interactions on client adherence to dentistry and surgery recommendations in companion-animal practice. Kanji N, Coe JB, Adams CL, Shaw JR. JAVMA 240:427-436, 2012.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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