Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: What happens when you assume

Oct 09, 2009
By dvm360.com staff

Through my meager athletic endeavors as a child, I learned a harsh lesson: You must never underestimate the competition. So many times I totally misread, misjudged, or was way off base when I attempted to size up a rival team or player. I learned that things are not always what they seem. The overgrown, muscle-bound child was often pitifully uncoordinated, while the skinny, quiet boy could be astonishingly talented or unbelievably fast. Are you guilty of misjudging your clients? Do you make assumptions as to their level of understanding of their pet’s medical problems? Do you make decisions based on what you think their family wants or how much they are willing to spend? I think to some extent, we are all guilty of misreading clients. In the brief time we spend with them obtaining a history, most of us have made mistakes in gauging the needs or wishes of a client. It is human nature to assume things as we size up people. Most of the time, however, we are wrong in these assumptions. And you know what happens when you assume. So how can we avoid such assumptions and minimize the number of client misreads? First, we must take the time to talk to our clients and find out as much as we can about them. Taking an animal’s history is an art. It cannot be hurried. For ourselves, for the good of the client, and to ultimately benefit the animal, we have to find out all we can about their situation and home environment. We do this by listening. History taking is a two-way dialogue. Most times in our lives, we learn nothing while we’re talking. Sometimes veterinarians say a lot by shutting up. We must strive to inform and educate our clients. We must take the time to illustrate the animal’s problem to the owner and explain all their options (medical, surgical, palliative, referral, or otherwise). We must never decide for them what is best, or naturally assume what their course of action will be. We must take the time to weigh and consider all their alternatives (including economic realities), and genuinely be their agent and their shepherd in these decisions. They have entrusted the care of their pet to us. We must always be their advocate and tirelessly enlighten them about all of their options. We must never decide for them what is best, or naturally assume what their course of action will be. By continuously providing such service, we will avoid the pitfalls of assuming what is best for them. Help them by detailing all of the various scenarios, but let them decide what is best for their situation and for their animal. By doing this, you’ll never fail to be surprised in the direction that their choices take them. See you next week, Kev