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Improving the euthanasia experience

06 August 2019, at 9:00am

How can we increase the number of clients that return to a practice after euthanasia?

The Cx Congress took place on 14 and 15 June 2019 in Nottingham and this year, a full day was dedicated to end of life care. The day was hosted by Mary Gardner, a small animal vet from Florida with a passion for geriatric care.The euthanasia appointment is one aspect of day-to-day practice that is often overlooked; yet, there are few areas where the client experience is more important. It is also a key area for losing clients; research has suggested that many clients won’t return to the same practice after their pet has been euthanised. How can we make sure that the process is as good an experience as possible and in turn, increase the number of clients that return to the practice in the following years?

Mary took congress delegates on a tour of the euthanasia experience map, from the initial phone call to aftercare, and identified areas where the experience could be improved. She provided some practical, cheap tips for improvement that can be implemented right away.

Preparation

The phone call is typically the first contact point in the euthanasia experience. It is important to ensure that all reception staff are trained to deal with euthanasia calls; they should find out what is important to the owner and be aware of their tone of voice and choice of words. Remind reception staff that silences don’t have to be awkward.

Once the appointment has been made, Mary advised sending a preparatory email including all the important information owners should know. In the same email, let them know that they can give the animal their medications as usual and bring a treat (virtually any treat they like!) to the appointment with them.

Mary recommended that every practice have an end of life advocate and that they work with other practice staff to develop a process for euthanasia. She listed some handy ideas that could improve the experience:

  • Have a reserved parking space for euthanasia clients
  • Place a battery-operated candle and a sign in reception stating that if the candle is alight, it means somebody is saying goodbye to their pet, so please keep voices low
  • Find ways to alert staff that a euthanasia is underway – perhaps a flag in the corridor or something obvious that can be placed in the treatment room

Arrival

Be prepared for the arrival of the client and their pet; go out to the car and help them, Mary urged, and take them straight to the allocated room so they don’t have to wait with other clients.

Whether you have space for a dedicated room or not, do your best to make the room feel like a home, Mary said. One nice touch is to have a basket containing a small mirror, bottles of water, colouring books for kids and makeup remover.

When you think about what you would want if it were your pet, you probably don’t picture stained towels and scruffy blankets. Could you have separate (nicer) towels and blankets for euthanasia appointments? Providing a bag for the pet’s collar is another thoughtful touch.

Payment is an awkward part of the journey. When do you ask for payment? Do you have to ask for payment at all? Perhaps you could offer free euthanasia appointments to registered clients and just charge them for the cremation costs; a member of the audience said that this was the approach his practice took and that it was working well for them.

The appointment

To allow the client the time that they need, why not install a wireless doorbell that they can press when they are ready for you to re-enter the room?

Mary had some useful tips for changing your language during the euthanasia, for example, use “we are doing the best thing” rather than “you are doing the right thing” and “you have done an amazing job” rather than “there is nothing more you can do”.

When explaining the euthanasia process, always make clear that every pet’s passing is different; describe the basic process and that if anything else happens, you’ll explain it at the time. Mary always prepares owners for the common aspects of euthanasia that may cause distress, like the eyes remaining slightly open and the bladder relaxing.

As well as being a nice touch for owners, taking paw impressions can help tie the process up, she said.

Exit and follow up

Remember that it’s OK to show emotions – just try not to outdo the owner, Mary said. Ask for a hug if appropriate, or else try to touch the client’s shoulder or elbow.

Finally, consider asking everybody in the practice who knew the animal to sign a sympathy card for the pet’s family; this gesture can mean a lot to grieving owners and may be that all-important token that shows the family you value them and encourages them to return to your practice.