Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Why Some Vets Have to “Divorce” Their Clients

Dr. Patty Khuly

Vets Dismissing Clients

When clients add stress to our lives in quantities disproportionate to that of the average pet owner, we sometimes initiate divorce proceedings. Yes, occasionally we have to concede that it’s time to part ways.

This message typically arrives in the guise of a nice letter explaining that it must be our fault. In case you’re curious, here’s what a standard “divorce” letter looks like:

“It’s clear to the doctors and staff of Our Animal Hospital that we cannot render services at the level you deem acceptable. Enclosed are your medical records so you may take them to a veterinary establishment better able to meet your needs. We are sorry to see Fluffy go.”

That’s pretty harsh, right? But it doesn’t happen often. In fact, as with any marriage, it takes a whole lot for us to get to the point where we’re willing to even consider a divorce. Why would any self-respecting veterinarian with bills to pay choose to cut themselves off from a client, the lifeblood of any veterinary practice?

Here are eight reasons why:

#1 Financial complaints

We’ve all known people who are always dissatisfied with what they have to pay… for anything. When we have clients exhaust us with complaints on every single invoiced item, every time they come in, it might be time to gently let them know they have other options. “Maybe a low-cost clinic can better meet your needs?”

#2 Obsessiveness

Chances are you’ve met pet owners who can be a tad intense about their pets. They mean well. But after six phone calls every day for a week the staff is ready to pull out their hair. If after an honest talk the behavior continues, sometimes we have no choice but to send home a nice note recommending they might find another hospital more accommodating.

#3 Unfair demands

“The doctor must speak with me right now. No, it’s NOT an emergency and I don’t care if she’s in surgery. Just get her on the phone… now. I’m a paying client and I deserve that!”

This is a real-life example. I didn’t actually have to fire this client, I simply refused to accede to her demands and she went elsewhere after only one visit (and maybe ten phone calls).

Every hospital has a different culture and ours tends to give precedence to emergencies and patients who have appointments. Those who don’t respect this sometimes “fire” themselves by finding another hospital where the doctors and staff are more accommodating of their demands.

#4 Lack of trust

Sure, we vets have to earn your trust but some clients never even give you the opportunity. There’s nothing worse than being accused of taking someone for a ride when you’re simply offering them a solid diagnosis and treatment plan.

#5 Disputing fees (after the fact)

Wanna know how to get your vet services for free? Pay for them with an American Express credit card and dispute the charges. AmEx always decides in favor of the client as long as the client says they didn’t authorize the services (despite being present while they were being rendered or after signing a general consent form). Which explains why service vendors don’t like to accept American Express. So next time a merchant won’t accept AmEx cards, you’ll know why.

In any case, disputing fees after you’ve agreed to them is grounds for divorce.

#6 Unrealistic expectations

Sometimes owners expect their pet to be cured of their ills… immediately. These are the ones who expect us to know exactly what’s wrong… instantly. A percentage will even get nasty about it, accusing us of committing atrocities if we’re unable to meet their unrealistic expectations. Luckily, this breed of pet owner presents itself only rarely.

#7 Shady behavior

Every once in a while we’ll be confronted with pet people who ask us to engage in behavior that doesn’t sit well with us. Trying to get us to sign paperwork falsely attesting to a pet’s age, weight, genetic abnormalities, pre-existing conditions –– even a pet’s identity –– to gain access to a flight, a boarding facility or a condo, or to attain some elevated status is just not nice.

It’s fraud. It’s wrong. It puts my license in jeopardy. These clients are terminated. With extreme prejudice.

#8 Verbal abuse

General nastiness tends to happen not so much towards the veterinarian (though that happens too). Rather, it’s more likely confined to rude and inappropriate remarks leveled against staff members. One or two terse remarks are no big deal. We have thick enough skins for that. But make my receptionist cry and you’re out. I can’t pay them well enough to compensate them for any emotional injury clients might inflict.

It may sound from the tone of this post that veterinarians somehow enjoy divorcing clients… or that we do so often. But the truth is that we’re seldom given cause. For the most part our clients are extremely well mannered, gracious people. But when they do manage to raise our hospitals’ collective stress levels to the breaking point, little gives us more satisfaction than knowing we don’t have to suffer them.

Thankfully, there are enough veterinarians in the world so that even the most “difficult” client can find their perfect match. Have you found yours?

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