The Results Are In: 7 Strategies for Efficiently Communicating Lab Results
In my last blog post, I shared secrets for maximizing appointment time and increasing exam room efficiency. And while it’s nice to button up each patient and client interaction within the prescribed 20- or 30-minute time block, many appointments require follow up days or weeks after the visit.
Post-visit communication—specifically relaying diagnostic testing results—is perhaps the second greatest time expenditure for veterinary professionals. But it doesn’t have to be such a burden—here are seven strategies to help you increase efficiency when discussing lab results.
#1: Give clients your time and attention
First, no matter how busy you are or how inconsequential Fluffy’s slightly elevated ALP is to you, remember that there is often a concerned client waiting for their beloved pet’s results—and they deserve a considerate and thorough response. Strive to communicate with clarity, empathy, and focus in each client interaction. Despite what you may think, this can be achieved in a short amount of time and will minimize lengthy back-and-forth communication.
#2: But, don’t give them ALL your time and attention
When calling about test results, most clients will always ask for you—but, as I like to remind my mentees, requesting to speak to the veterinarian doesn’t mean they get to speak to the veterinarian. Many concerns and questions that clients describe as urgent are routine issues that can be better handled by a credentialed technician or in an email.
If you’re concerned about how your client may respond when someone else calls to report their pet’s results, set a clear expectation during the appointment. This is as simple as saying, “I’m really glad we’re running blood work on Chloe today. If the results are normal, I’ll have my technician Stacey send you a message. But if I notice anything unusual I’ll reach out personally to review it with you.”
#3: Triage your call-back list
Triage your call-back and email list every day and delegate non-critical questions to veterinary technicians or suitable support staff. This can quickly cut your communication duties in half, allowing you to focus on more complex or time-consuming conversations.
For your remaining list, group or rank your calls and emails by complexity so that you can tackle them from simplest to most complex—or vice versa if you’re an “eat the frog” or worst-first type. If any of your follow-ups require additional research, cost estimates, or client materials, schedule time to gather this information before placing the call or writing your email.
#4: Schedule blocked time for communication
Ask your employer if you can designate a specific time block—I recommend first thing in the morning—for client follow-ups. Protected time ensures you’ll be able to give each communication the attention it deserves and prevents calls and emails from slipping through the cracks of your busy day.
Minimize distractions and disruptions by hanging a “Do not disturb” sign near your workstation or temporarily commandeering an unused exam or consultation room.
#5: Decrease back-and-forth calls or emails by anticipating your client’s questions
Planning what you need to say before you place a call or type an email can help keep your thoughts clear, concise, and organized. One way to do this is to anticipate your client’s questions based on their pet’s condition and test results. In most cases, client questions fall into six categories. These include:
- Diagnosis or differential diagnoses
- Next tests
- Treatment options
Although preparing this information can take a little extra work on the front end, thorough responses can help your client feel more confident, informed, and empowered to make pet care decisions—greatly reducing the need for time-consuming back-and-forth communication.
#6: Always communicate the value of normal results
Never let your clients assume that pursuing diagnostic testing was a waste. Instead, shape your conversation around the valuable information provided by the normal results.
For example, a senior pet with no clinical signs and a textbook complete blood count, chemistry, and urinalysis should be seen as a standing ovation-level health victory, and you should encourage owners to stay the course for their pet’s daily care. Instead of deferring these results to a technician, I may call or email the owner myself to convey the value and significance of a normal senior wellness panel.
For a clinically ill pet (e.g., a vomiting cat) with unexciting blood work, emphasize how a normal result rules out your differential diagnoses. Then explain how this allows you to refine your search for answers and save the client money by avoiding unnecessary tests or treatments.
#7: Put an end to the vicious voicemail cycle
We’ve all been here before—despite a well-planned and detailed voice message explaining how no further action is required, Mr. Jones is now on hold and “returning your call.” You kindly ask the client service representative to tell Mr. Jones to check his voicemail.
“He says he’d rather hear it from you.”
Break the voicemail vortex and retrain clients with this quick fix.
- Leave a detailed message — Include the most pertinent information and tell the client you’ll follow up in an email.
- Send a follow-up email — In this space you can reiterate the main points and provide any relevant information pertaining to the six client questions outlined above. Close by offering a scheduled phone call if the client has any additional questions.
- Schedule a phone call — Scheduled phone calls are a great way to ensure your client feels seen and heard without interrupting your day. If you anticipate the phone call may be lengthy, redundant, or unnecessary, consider offering a paid phone call. Clients who really wish to speak with you will be happy to cover the cost of your time.
Time management skills and efficient client communication are crucial for new—and not so new—veterinarians. Previously, these skills and secrets had to be learned the messy way, through trial-and-error, late shifts, and a poor work-life balance.
I’ve been there, done that—and created a better way. (You’re welcome).
Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship allows new and early-career veterinarians to bypass frustrating roadblocks and learn critical lessons they don’t teach in veterinary school. With practical solutions, tools, skills, and support, Ready, Vet, Go mentees hit the ground running and quickly become productive and confident associates enjoying sustainable and rewarding careers.
Ready to elevate your early career experience or ease your new associate’s transition into practice? Explore the Ready, Vet, Go membership pages—located under the “About Us” tab—or contact us directly to discuss your needs.