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Taking the Fear Out of Blood Draws Benefits Pets, Clients, and the Veterinary Team

Peter Brown, DVM

It goes without saying that veterinarians want to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients and pet owners while keeping staff happy. But as we all know, this is much easier said than done. In my experience, I’ve found that Fear Free Certified® Practices fare better in many ways, from client compliance to technician quality of life. Interestingly, I’ve even found Fear Free Certified Practices to have great success with getting pet owners to bring in their pets for annual wellness visits and with getting essential blood draws during those visits.

Why am I such a believer? Let me step back and begin at the beginning. We can all agree that the only way to break through the barriers that keep clients from bringing their pets into the office is by creating an environment where a client really wants to bring their pet into the office. We can also agree that for the health and longevity of the patient, annual preventive care screenings are essential.

But how do we make the annual wellness visits happen? Well, by creating a Fear Free environment, we can check off a lot of the boxes that keep people from walking through the door. For example, many clients are afraid that their pet will be traumatized by the visit because they “hate going to the vet” or have fears around sample collection. In a Fear Free Certified Practice, the animal is happy and relaxed, so it’s easier to get a sample. And when it’s easier to get a sample, clients are less afraid to bring their pets in for any needed follow-up bloodwork.

Further, we know that a difficult visit for a patient dramatically decreases the likelihood that they will be coming back in for a follow-up visit or additional bloodwork. This means that initial preventive care visit is less effective and not likely to be repeated, so all that potential downstream revenue may be lost.

Here’s an example from my own experience prior to being Fear Free Certified: An anxious cat and client came into my practice for a wellness visit, and even before the client took the patient out of the carrier it was clear they were worried and incredibly ambivalent about the visit.

As a result, the blood draws were difficult, the techs were flustered, and while we got the blood we needed, there were a lot of scratches. Overall, it was a stressful visit for everyone. While the client was appreciative of the bloodwork, when the results indicated a need for follow-up the client said directly to her cat, “Don’t worry, we won’t ever do that to you again.” And we lost the opportunity to accurately diagnose and potentially improve/extend life for the animal.

In contrast, if we had done the draw using Fear Free techniques, we would have backed away from the anxious patient, potentially given the cat something to relax her. She would have been much more compliant, and the visit might have resulted in a different outcome. At the time, we were, of course, proud to get the draw done, but now we know better and would leverage our Fear Free education to create a more positive environment.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

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