Communication is a skill that not all people are naturally blessed with. The good news for you is that it can be easily taught, although it may take some time to master. Utilizing good communication and phone triage skills in your practice can really make a difference in your time management, client satisfaction and ultimately increase your stellar patient care.
1. Silence the Chatty Cathy
Clients typically treat their pets like family and certainly chat about them as such. When an owners calls in to discuss a problem, it is your responsibility to quickly assess the severity of it and when they need to bring poor little Bella Poo into the clinic. What you might not always expect is that Mrs. Rogers wants to tell you her (and Bella Poo's) life story. Your job then turns into shutting down the Chatty Cathy and trying to get her to focus on the situation. Is Bella in danger? Or does she just need a routine appointment?
Gracefully cutting off Mrs. Rogers will no doubt involve interrupting her. The best way to interrupt a client is by making sure you address the concern for their pet. For example, "That's great Mrs. Rogers that you got Bella Poo as a puppy, but what is the reason for your call today?" Redirection is key to shutting down the Chatty Cathy and getting off the phone faster.
For more details on dealing with talkative clients, check out this article.
2. How serious is it?
One drop of blood can cause massive hysteria for one owner, while a bucket of blood may not alarm the next. It may be hard to determine just how serious an animal's condition might be.
You must then use your spidey sense, especially when an owner mentions any of the following: bucket of blood (ok, this is just ridiculous, but you never know), a large breed dog retching or vomiting (restless, moaning, distended abdomen) a puppy vomiting or having diarrhea, any issue related to the eyes, male cat going in and out of the litter box (licking penis, yowling, not eating) and the list goes on.
It would be extremely useful to have the staff create a cheat sheet that could easily be accessed by all front end staff of any signs an animal may exhibit that is definite grounds for them to be seen immediately. This would also become a great training tool for new staff.
3. When in doubt, just come on in
There is a reason why there needs to be a patient/doctor relationship as it is nearly impossible to diagnose a condition over the phone. I remember a hesitant owner debating over bringing her dog in. I told her that an exam fee would ease her mind and that in and of itself was worth it. She took my advice and we later discovered her dog had indeed ingested rat poison. Even though she was reluctant, I convinced her an exam fee would ease her mind while it in fact saved her dog's life.
I have also had pets be completely fine upon exam and been given the stink eye for persuading them to come in. I would however take 100 healthy pet exams to save the one pet who may not have come in otherwise.
Being successful in utilizing your phone triage skills will no doubt be of benefit to your staff and your clients. Whether you are a day practice or an emergency clinic and whether a client is chatty or undecisive, it will be your job to determine the seriousness of their request.
What are your top tips for phone triage?