By Wendy S. Myers
How many times have you experienced this: While you explain your exam findings, a client’s fingers are pounding out text messages. Plenty? Well, prepare for more of the same. Insensitive use of technology may become commonplace as pet ownership demographics shift. Millennials check their smartphones 43 times per day.1 Don’t discount this generation—they spend more on veterinary care than Generation X and boomers.2 Millennials will add 2.6 million pet owners between now and 2020, so it may behoove you to learn how to manage inappropriate smartphone use rather than get frustrated.3
Regardless of generational differences, some clients may be addicted to email, text and social media. Surfing Facebook can become intoxicating and stupefying. Don’t stay silent about bad mobile manners. Distracted clients may be incapable of making healthcare decisions, causing both patient care and hospital revenue to suffer.
Here’s how to get clients to “hang up” and listen.
Lead by example
If you have a smartphone tethered to your hip or in your lab coat pocket, “vibrate” is not “silent.” When your phone buzzes for every email, text or social media notice, you’re demonstrating that smartphone usage during exams is acceptable behavior. Leave your smartphone on your desk or in your locker. If you’re expecting an urgent call or text, park your silenced phone in the lab/pharmacy hallway where you can glance at it between exams.
Your hospital needs a consistent policy for all employees, whether a practice owner or kennel attendant. You can’t have veterinarians constantly on their personal devices and expect other employees to follow different rules. Researchers at Howard University and the University of Southern California found employees are especially bothered when managers answer smartphone calls during meetings.4
Require employees to limit personal smartphone calls/checks to breaks and lunchtime. Lengthy conversations can affect productivity and disturb coworkers and clients. When making business calls, use a business phone to avoid the risk of clients returning calls to employees’ personal phones. Find tips for creating an effective smartphone policy at bit.ly/2sUr0Ig.
Set expectations with signage
Post signs in your lobby and exam rooms that encourage the behavior you want: “During your appointment, we kindly request that you refrain from cell phone use.”
Order signs from mydoorsign.com or safetysign.com. Place them in prominent locations such as the check-in desk and at eye level of client seating in exam rooms.
Redirect the conversation away from texting
While you want to bark, “I’ll be back when you’re done with your text,” don’t just leave the exam room for 10 minutes, which is equally rude and could result in a bad online review.
Reclaim control of the conversation
Tell the client, “I see you’re having an important text conversation with someone. Is your text about your pet’s care today? I’m happy to provide answers so you can consult with that person after you have all the information from me. Could we discuss your pet’s healthcare first, and then you could get back to your text?”
Rise above, get clients involved
Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, a how-to guide for building habit-forming products, believes technology should serve us—we should not serve it.5 Don’t resign yourself to being ignored, he advises.
Rather than accept ill-timed cell usage as a sign of the times, Sherry Turkle, an author and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, diagnosed the problem as “We expect more from technology and less from each other.”5 To win over clients, you need to be more engaging than their smartphones. Involve them in exams, let them listen to heart murmurs, have them peer into your microscope to see ear mites and share their pets’ digital dental X-rays.
Invite smartphone use for client education
Because 65 percent of people learn visually, encourage clients to take photos or videos on their smartphones.6 Let’s say you advise a pet owner to give subcutaneous fluids to her cat at home to treat its chronic kidney disease. Tell the client, “Let’s give your cat fluids together today so you will know how to do it at home. You’re welcome to record a video on your smartphone for reference. I will text you a link to our hospital’s YouTube video on how to give fluids. Giving your cat fluids three times per week will keep her hydrated and let us better manage her kidney disease together.” Use your practice-management software or a third-party texting service to send the link at the end of the visit.
Appropriate smartphone use includes showing clients how to use your practice’s app, access your YouTube channel for helpful videos or like your clinic’s Facebook page for ongoing tips. Try a collaborative rather than confrontational approach when dealing with smartphone use. Most importantly, don’t allow the disease of distraction to become an epidemic.
Wendy S. Myers owns Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colo. She is a certified veterinary journalist and the author of 101 Communication Skills for Veterinary Teams.” Reach her at email@example.com or csvets.com.
- Shupe C. “Quiz: Do you know millennials? Really?” Firstline. Accessed 04-26-17 at bit.ly/2rDk9yE.
- Phillips-Donaldson D. “Baby Boomers step aside: Millennials now own more pets.” Pet Food Market Trends. Accessed 04-37- 17 at bit.ly/2sRcPTh.
- Stewart C. “Millennial pet owners, future of the industry.” MarketResearch.com. Accessed 04-37-17 at bit.ly/2dQLMOi.
- Hedges K. “How to get people off their phones in meetings without being a jerk.” Forbes.com. Accessed 06-10-17 at bit. ly/2sUqBWh.
- Eyal N. “How to politely ask people to get the f*ck off their smartphones.” TechCrunch.com. Accessed 06-10-17 at tcrn. ch/2rSiEkb.
- Klingbord J. “Exam Room Communication for Veterinarians.” AAHA Press. 2011; 27, 29, 160-162, 34-35.