Don't throw colleagues under the bus

            Last week I got a call from an angry client.  She was frustrated with the care her pet had received the past few months and under the recommendation of a friend went to see another doctor.  There the pet was given a diagnosis and placed on a specific treatment plan.  She was upset that this diagnosis was not reached by me sooner.  I tried to explain that the symptoms were not as cut and dry at the time when I saw the pet and different circumstances lead to different answers.  The owner was clearly upset and it became clear that no matter how well I could explain the situation she had her mind made up.  What was frustrating to me was in our conversation it became clear that this other doctor did not paint my medicine in the best of light.  These things have happened before and will happen again.  In reviewing my medical notes and diagnostic tests I feel I made the appropriate decisions and recommendations at the time.  In most of these situations it comes down to communication which is something we all will continue to aspire to improve upon.  The variable that can be hard to control is the false communication a client receives from another doctor.

            What is most troubling to me is when these situations arise with a client it always seems to be the same doctor that fed them the misleading information.  Now this doctor is not in direct competition with me or my hospital, he is not down the street.  I doubt that he knows me from Kato Kaelin; I don’t think it is personal.  In fact he has a great reputation in the community.  These very things confound me when time and time again I get second hand information of what he imparts to these clients that makes me look incompetent.   My general conclusion from a handful of these cases is he alters facts to make himself look good (which is usually at the expense of the first veterinarian) in order to make a quick dollar off a procedure or hospilization.  I have never found the treatments to be malicious or hurtful to animals, just communicated to the client in a way to gain a service even if it means putting a colleague under the bus. 

            That is his communication style, and from what I can tell it appears to work.  For me that style does not sit well.  Ours is a very small fraternity and as I see it once one gets hooded we are all on the same team.  I get my fair share of new clients with second opinions and I always make sure to put the first veterinarian in the most positive light I can.  There are facts and circumstances that I can’t draw from a client’s recollection or medical notes in assessing a patient’s care.  I have had some situations in which an owner construed what I had said to make her case against another doctor.  I take those instances as learning opportunities on how to communicate more clearly the next time.  My job is to gather the information that had already been collected and to the best of my ability move forward with the case for the betterment of the pet.  There are situations where a doctor’s care should be assessed; such as medical boards and likely someday part of everyone’s continuing education/renewal of license.  But for most of us that sort of analysis should be left out of the exam room.

            So the next time you see a second opinion, don’t worry about the other doc and focus on the pet in front of you.  


  • It is so very cut-throat where we are, that we have experienced the same thing, twice within the same month with the same practice that is not necessarily a direct competitor, but is close enough on the "border" between our demographics to make the clients in the middle, well, in the middle.

    We've had clients bring estimates from Dr. A to us for direct comparison and ask us, "Why does Dr. A charge so much less?"

    Dr. A informed one client that their pet did not need pre-operative bloodwork or consultation before doing a spay.  We simply educated the client that, "99% of the time when a pet goes under anesthesia for such an invasive procedure, nothing happens.  But bloodwork, especially on small breed dogs, helps us discover things like genetic kidney disease or liver shunts that may not be immediately apparent upon simple physical examination.  Your puppy may fall into that 1% catagory that has a possible illness or greater risk of anethesia.  If we do not do bloodwork, and your puppy dies while in surgery, you're not going to care about those other 99 dogs that didn't die.  This is your puppy and you care about her. WE care about her, and to reduce the risk we require bloodwork be done before we will perform a surgical procedure, any surgical procedure, regardless of how 'routine' that procedure is.  A human doctor won't operate without at least this type of bloodwork be done, and because you expect us to treat your pet as if it were our own, this is what we'd do for our pets and what we believe should be done as a minimum standard of care."

    The client booked pre-op and surgery with us.

    Client number two went to Dr. A for preventative dental care, and Dr. A informed the client, "How do you know they require anethesia for the dental procedure, I could possibly just chip the tartar off while your pet is still awake."

    Again we said, "We believe...." The conversation also provided opportunity to discuss the role of Licensed Veterinary Technicians in the animal hospital setting, and we informed the client, "We don't know if Dr. A's employees licensed techs, we really don't have a relationship with him.  They probably are because it is the law in our state. But WE do know WE employ licensed technicians, and, as a matter of fact, here is my license right here on the wall and here is the website you can go if you want to check out the validity." (Yes, as office manager, I have my credentials on my own little "brag wall" out in the lobby.)

    Dental client's response was, "My word! People probably don't even know to ask whether or not the person doing the dental is licensed!  You just don't know what goes on once you drop off your pet!"

    Dental client also booked.

    In no way do I feel we disparaged Dr. A.  We simply looked at the estimates and said, "Okay, yes, these two items are the same, and are the same standard of care.  We are different from this sameness because we believe this philosophy...." Pre-op consults are important, licensed people doing treatment and assisting are important, this is why we feel these are important...

    BUT...and you knew the big BUT was coming....

    While these things mattered very much to our clients, they still were very upset our estimate was $200.00 more than Dr. A's estimates.  They wanted what was best for their pets, they truely did express this desire once we educated them, but simply could not afford licensed technicians and pre-operative risk assessments, and we had now made them feel "guilty" for "being cheap" because they wanted our standard of care at Dr. A's prices, and were willing to go to Dr. A without knowing exactly what they were to recieve in terms of standard of care, or having the client-patient-doctor relationship they valued as important.  So when all was said in done, the real reason these clients booked with us was because we offered to discount our estimates to match Dr. A's prices.

    We can't afford to loose clients either.  Clients can percive value in standards of care or quality of service, but if the bottom line doesn't match what is in their wallet...even the best most wonderful animal hospitals in the world will have an empty appointment book.

    NWinkler, 2 years ago | Flag

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