Phrases to banish from your vocabulary

Veterinary professionals should serve as translators, helping pet owners to comprehend complex medical information and make informed decisions

Have you ever visited a foreign country and struggled to communicate because you don’t know the language? Imagine the confusion your veterinary lingo causes pet owners. In fact, they may decline care because they don’t know what a particular term means.

Clear communication helps clients understand your advice and accept it. Here are veterinary catchphrases to banish from your vocabulary, along with crystal-clear replacements:

1) Drop off. Have you ever been ‘dropped off’ for surgery? See how silly it sounds when you tell clients they can ‘drop off’ their pets for surgery between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.? Besides devaluing professional services, the phrase tells a client she can hand you her leashed dog and go.

Instead, use the phrase ‘surgical admission,’ which communicates there is a process. Schedule admission appointments every 10 minutes with veterinary nurses, with the hardest cases checking in first and the easiest last. For example, an orthopedic surgical patient will check in at 7 a.m. because you’ll need time for preanesthetic testing, a longer surgical procedure, and more recovery time. The 8 a.m. surgical admission appointment is a young cat neuter.

When clients book surgical and dental procedures, be sure to set expectations. Tell them, “Your surgical admission appointment is at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. You will meet with a nurse for 10 minutes to review the treatment plan and consent form, answer your questions, get signatures, and confirm contact information for you on the day of the procedure. We will text you a surgical confirmation reminder the day before the procedure and email you forms for review in advance. If you don’t have questions, you may sign and return the surgical consent form by email. If you have questions, we’re happy to discuss them during your surgical admission. Please allow at least 10 minutes for your pet to be admitted to the hospital.”

Have nurses, rather than receptionists, admit surgical and dental patients. During the first hour of the workday, receptionists are busy answering multiple phone lines and preparing for appointments. They cannot have focused conversations on preanesthetic testing or answer medical questions while multi-tasking. Receptionists might as well ask, “Do you want fries with that?” Creating structure for morning admissions will delight your team and clients, eliminating the chaos of six clients arriving at once who get impatient because they were told to just ‘drop off’ pets.

Likewise, you may use the term ‘drop-off exams’ for clients who are leaving patients with you for the day for vaccines. Again, ‘drop off’ belittles the medical services you will deliver.

To increase client satisfaction and show value, use the term ‘day admission.’ When the client calls to request the service, explain, “We would be happy to see your dog as a day admission for his checkup. Let’s schedule a 10-minute nurse appointment for your dog’s admission. He or she will get your pet’s vital signs, take a brief history, ask you about any health or behaviour concerns you want the doctor to address, get your phone number in case the doctor has questions, and have you approve the services and fees for your dog’s checkup. The nurse also will set a pickup time to go through the exam report card and doctor’s findings. I have a nurse appointment available today at 8:10 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. Which do you prefer?”

Create a day admission intake form where the nurse can take notes for the doctor that also will become part of the patient’s medical record. The nurse will ask, “Does your pet have any behaviour or health concerns you want the doctor to address?” The answer may flag a lump, hot spot, limping, or other worry that leads to resolution and revenue.

Because you will provide nursing care, water, walks, and a clean cage, day admissions require more staff labour and merit a small fee. When the day admission is for the client’s convenience, charge a one- to 12-hour hospitalization or day boarding rate. To explain the charge, the receptionist would tell the client, “Because we will care for your pet throughout the day, there is a day admission fee of $___. Let’s schedule your day admission appointment with a nurse. We could admit your dog at 8:10 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. Which do you prefer?”

2) Recheck. When you need to see patients for follow-up care, using the term ‘recheck’ may be perceived as free and optional. Never ask, “Do you want to schedule your dog’s recheck for his ear infection?” Clients hear it’s not medically necessary, and you gave the option to decline care. Forward-booking is best. For exam efficiency and continuity of care, lead the client to book now, offering the same day of the week, same time of day, and same doctor two weeks from today.

Replace ‘recheck’ with ‘progress exam.’ The action word ‘progress’ communicates you’re working toward resolution of the problem and reinforces the need for follow-up care. Say, “Dr. <Name> needs to see your dog in two weeks for a progress exam for his ear infection. Let’s schedule his exam first, and then I’ll get you checked out for today’s services. Two weeks from today would be <date>. Does this same time, 9 a.m., work for you?”

When you schedule before collecting payment for today’s services, an appointment reminder will print on the receipt. Also send a confirmation email or text of the appointment when it’s booked so the client may add it to his/her calendar.

3) Wellness test. A client visits with her eight-year-old golden retriever. You want to perform blood work and urinalysis as a preventive screen. If you try to sell a ‘wellness test’ to a client with a pet that appears healthy, you may fail.

Use benefit statements and the term ‘early-detection screen.’ Clients are familiar with this term in human medicine and understand the importance of early detection. Nurses should introduce screening at the beginning of exams. Use age analogy charts—people know they get diagnostic screening at certain milestones (e.g. mammogram starting at age 40, colonoscopy at 50). Download a dog age analogy chart at and one for a cat at

Say, “Just like people, your dog’s health will change as he ages. Let’s see how old your dog is in people years.” Point to the age analogy chart, explaining, “Your eight-year-old golden retriever is 55 in human years. Because pets age faster than people, changes may happen quickly. Our early-detection screen identifies changes early. Think of this screen as an internal physical exam that lets us see inside to check the pet’s health and organ function. Our early-detection screen is the most comprehensive and affordable. This includes your dog’s annual heartworm/tick screen, intestinal parasite screen, thyroid function, and urinalysis to determine hydration and kidney function. I will collect blood and urine samples now, and you will have results during today’s exam/tomorrow.”

Explain the cost of tests up front so pet owners don’t get sticker shock at checkout or argue with receptionists over charges. Say, “Our early detection screen is $152, which includes the heartworm/tick screen, a value of $48. Shall I collect your dog’s samples, or do you want to talk with the doctor?” Rather than the yes-or-no choice of, “Do you want to do the test?” the nurse offered yes-or-yes choices regarding sample collection or speaking with the doctor. After the veterinarian does the physical exam and asks detailed history questions, she may find health concerns validating the need to perform an early-detection screen.

You serve as translators, helping pet owners to comprehend complex medical information and make informed decisions. Identify which phrases you should adjust to improve client understanding and, in turn, compliance.

Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has been training veterinary teams for more than 20 years as owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colo. She helps health-care teams improve telephone and communication skills that result in getting more pets the medical care they need. Myers shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly CE credit webinars. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. You may reach her at or

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