Aftercare, Not an Afterthought

Posted: Jun 8, 2021
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We recently created three videos about the DoveLewis process for aftercare. The first video, Internal Process for Patient Aftercare, is about the tasks we complete at DoveLewis. It includes both the Assistant and Front Desk perspectives. The second video, Prep and Printing Aftercare Paw Prints, demonstrates how to make paw print cards from a deceased patient. We discuss in detail how to make sure you create quality cards for every owner. Our last video in this series, Improving the Client Experience with Patient Aftercare, explains the importance of communicating and setting clear expectations with clients about aftercare procedures. We also discuss how to have meaningful conversations with clients during these difficult times. We are excited to offer this series of content to our own staff and hope it will provide a foundation to providing great aftercare at your clinic.

 

How we care for our patients, even in their final moments, is incredibly important. Here at DoveLewis, we implemented an internal process that helped reduce our errors in patient aftercare by about 90%. Is this process more time consuming? Yes. Does this process require more staff? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Patient aftercare can be overlooked on a day-to-day basis. When you’re juggling growing caseloads, curbside triage, and extensive wait-times, it can be difficult to prioritize aftercare. In my experience, patient aftercare isn’t the task everyone is jumping to do. But I would like to make the case not only for why you should do it, but why you should take the time to care.

Rushing through any task, whether it’s cleaning a kennel or fitting a muzzle, comes with consequences—and aftercare is no different. The downside to rushing through aftercare, however, is that once it’s done, there is no fixing mistakes. If a kennel is dirty, you might be able to rely on an animal’s immune system to protect it, or on your own reaction time if a muzzle slips off a biting dog. For aftercare, once the patient is cremated, you don’t get any second chances, and there is no fixing the heartbreaking mistakes for the owners. Try to imagine making the call to the owners yourself—telling them that you were distracted, and their pet was communally cremated, and no, they won’t be getting any cremains back. These phone calls are made, even if you aren’t the one making them.

Having a multi-check system helps ensure that we are not going to have rework later. When things go wrong with aftercare, a ton of work is created to remedy the situation. This mistake was likely an honest one—maybe someone forgot to put a patient ID collar on a deceased pet. But regardless, you and your coworkers now have a mountain of cross checking to do before that patient can be processed. This work absolutely includes calling your coworkers (who are inevitably on vacation) to see what they remember, tracking down people who are supposed to be sleeping to show them patient photos and ask them to identify one black lab from another, calling the crematorium to put a hold on their workflow so that no one is cremated improperly, and generally trying to fish people out of the Bermuda triangle to see who can confirm information about your patients.

Remembering that this was a patient to you, but a family member to someone else, helps remind us of the human-animal bond. I recently met someone who had a memorial paw print tattooed on his arm. I asked this man, who was covered in tattoos, piercings, and had a general ‘tough guy’ persona, about the print. He told me about his old cat Theo, a Maine coon mix, and the long years of adventures that they’d shared. I learned about Theo’s adoption, his younger years, and in the end, his illnesses. Through our conversation, the man had tears in his eyes and would occasionally touch the tattoo as he remembered his friend. I try to keep experiences like this in mind when I am taking memorial prints. I try to remember that this isn't a task to get through, this is part of honoring the bond, and that I am now a part of their story.

 

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