Almost certainly, one of the worst parts of being a vet is having to inform owners when you are unable to save their beloved pet.
Often the initial conversation needs to be had over the phone, either because the pet is at home and needs to be seen immediately to ease their suffering or because the pet may have been at the vet’s and the owners at home awaiting news.
These end-of-life calls can be extremely challenging for all involved and require careful management. At Kernow Vets Messaging, we have a wealth of experience working with vets and managing calls, which means we can often provide insight into how to manage these calls effectively. Our team is fully trained in dealing with these types of calls, particularly as emergency end-of-life care often occurs out of hours and we are the first point of contact for the owners.
Managing sensitive calls can be a challenging task, but there are a few tips we have learned through experience that can help make it a little easier:
Be sure always to remain professional and courteous
Being emotional, even if it is meant with the greatest sympathy, is unlikely to help the situation at that time. We find it much more helpful to remain composed and provide a professional but calm approach to the owner.
Listen carefully to the caller, and be sure to repeat back any important information they give you.
If an owner is calling because their animal is in distress, they are unlikely to be calm as they deliver the information, so ensuring you have recorded all key information accurately is extremely important. It may also be important to record their wishes in relation to the pet, for example, the form of euthanasia if appropriate or if/how they would like to say goodbye to their pet.
Provide clear and concise information and do your best to answer any questions they may have
The caller is likely to be emotional during the call, so try your best to be as clear and concise as possible when passing on information. You may wish to ask them to repeat it or confirm they understand to ensure they take on board any important information. If they ask questions, try to answer them directly, or, if you can’t answer the question, confirm the next steps for getting that information, for example, do you need to speak to the vet directly, or will this information be available in a specific timeframe, etc.
Ensure you are providing the most accurate and up-to-date information you have, but if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to tell the caller that, as long as you confirm how/if you will be able to get that information.
Try to keep the conversation private and confidential
Where possible, try to ensure there will be no interruptions and that you can maintain a private conversation with the caller. If needed, you can also reassure them of the privacy and confidentiality of the call.
Thank the caller for their call and offer any additional assistance if needed
Make sure you support the caller throughout the call and confirm what will happen after the call has ended, whether it is another call back or for them to head to the vets, etc. Where possible, try to give the caller any additional assistance they might need regarding the next steps.
Most importantly, be respectful and understanding. End-of-life for pets can be a difficult and emotional experience, and it is important to provide a supportive and compassionate atmosphere.