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How 3 Practices Remade Themselves With Fear Free

By Bash Harlow, CVPM, LVT

Visitors who walk into District Veterinary Hospital in downtown Washington, D.C., might not realize they’ve entered an animal hospital.  Under the careful eye of medical director Dan Teich, the facility looks more like a high-end social club than it does a medical facility. Black vinyl club chairs in cozy groups allow pet families to sit together while they wait for their appointment. A low-slung reception desk puts the business’s ebullient client care team closer to the practice’s patients and their families.

Throughout the practice, the floor is covered with comfortable rubber tiles, and it’s not long before everyone is sitting on them.  Pets are never nervously wobbling atop a stainless steel table; rather they find themselves lounging on the rubber matted flooring along with their pet parents and the medical team.

Gone too are the white coats and scrubs. This crew comes to work in the same clothes they wear around the house. The familiar clothing puts both clients and pets at ease. To reduce everyone’s anxiety about a trip to the “treatment area,” Dr. Dan has thoughtfully built the wall out of glass.  It’s a literal and figurative window into a practice that commits itself whole-heartedly to Fear Free visits.

Fear Free On A Budget

Medical leaders Steva Stowell-Hardcastle and Lynne Neveu haven’t allowed their tight budget strings to strangle the client and patient experience at their practice. Without the ability to increase prices to support major changes to the way they conduct business, the Companion Animal Hospital team got creative and ambitious. Regular team meetings helped all crewmembers understand Fear Free techniques and provided a swapping point to share success stories. Companion purchased inexpensive landscape lattice, framed it, painted it, and then added legs to create a decorative screen that divides their lobby into a general section and a quieter, private nook for cats. Because the excellent CAH care team never sits (!), they are always poised to move from behind the desk to escort cat owners to the special waiting area. They also introduce the client and pet to the product Feliway and place a towel spritzed with it into the cat carrier. A variety of delicious treats are stored in a ladder cupboard where team members can handily grab them and every patient has notes (emotional medical record) in Cornerstone that tip off the group to the best way to handle the patient, his treat preferences, and how he responds to sedation. Says Stowell-Hardcastle,  “You don’t need money; you need determination.  You need to allow your team to explore the value of Fear Free and then allow them to help you solve how you’re going to create that experience.”

Maverick Vet Tech

Licensed veterinary technician Dani, of Animal Medical of New City, didn’t wait for a practice owner or a manager to tell her to create a Fear Free practice. In large part, she undertook the entire endeavor on her own. Says Dani, “I just like cats and I know in my heart that everyone here wants the best experience for them, so I asked Doc if I could make some changes and he let me. I mean, of course I told him what I was going to do. I installed shelving in the rooms for the cats to climb on. I built these cool little boxes for cats to rest in during their exam. I even got some goofy fish screen-savers for the computers in our dedicated cat rooms. Look, my feeling is this: you want cat owners to come to the vet, don’t you? I mean I do. So let’s make sure that while they’re here no one is freaking out.” She pauses a moment, smiles broadly, and shrugs, “I told you; I just like cats!”

It’s Not A Fad; It’s A Market Trend

Veterinary professionals who treat their patients like beings instead of animals are the ones who will be most successful in years to come. They’ll exact greater work satisfaction and bond more tightly with their clients.

Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT is on the editorial advisory board for Fetch360 (formally DVM360) and is a veterinary business advisor. For more information, visit his website www.halowtassava.com.

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