Texting on Cell Phone

I know it’s considered unconventional, but I’m a big fan of my clients sending me texts — and not just those clients I consider close friends.  

“Dr k i know ur not in tdy but lolas eye isnt bettr chk out this pic!” is a daily occurrence, whether I’m at work or hanging out in my backyard on the weekend.

Though it might seem intrusive, here’s the thing: I prefer it. Not only will I be returning a message ten times faster than I might via more conventional modes of contact, it’s got other pluses, too: The telephone is to social media what snail mail is to email. To me, calls seem sluggish and intrusive by comparison. What can I say? I don’t have the patience for the phone (though my clients still seem to prefer it).

Moreover, putting something in writing makes for a digital paper trail. And somehow it seems more concrete, intelligible, indelible and comfortable for everyone — especially when it comes to legal records.

Think Before You Text

Still, that doesn’t mean that you should ask your veterinarian for her number and text her willy nilly. No way! Here are some simple rules for anyone who wants to text their veterinarian. 

1. Let your vet make the offer. Don’t assume your veterinarian wants you texting her. Wait until she offers. And follow her rules, not just those offered here.

2. A text should never take the place of a veterinary exam. If you have a new health concern about your pet, schedule an exam. Texts are more appropriate if you have questions about an existing condition or treatment.

3. Identify yourself when you text. Your veterinarian probably doesn’t have you in her list of contacts — not if it’s the first time (or even the third) that you’ve texted her. Identify yourself and the pet in question. (Example:

Do: “This is Karin Fernandez with Goldie.”

4. Keep it simple (and short). Get to the point. Long messages are usually unnecessary.

Do: “This is Karin Fernandez with Goldie. She’s still vomiting. Should we plan on seeing you in the AM or head over to the ER tonight?”

5. Text only once. Don’t send multiple messages if it’s not necessary.

Do: “This is Karin Fernandez with Goldie. She’s still vomiting. Should we plan on seeing you in the AM or head over to the ER tonite?”

Don’t: “This is Karin Fernandez with Goldie.”

Message 2: “She’s still vomiting.”

Message 3: “Should we plan on seeing you in the AM or head over to the ER tonight?”

6. Text at a reasonable time. For me, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. is reasonable. Don’t assume everyone is up at the crack of dawn or stays up for the late shows. There are few things worse for a vet than getting woken up when not on call.

7. If there is an emergency, don’t wait. Your veterinarian may be out kayaking on a river, away from cell service. If she doesn’t get back to you right away, contact the closest emergency veterinary clinic.

8. Be careful w abbrevs (not everyone speaks txt). You want your vet to understand your message. Don’t text like a 16-year-old.

9. Don’t abuse the privilege. Just because we ask you to text us in the event of an emergency doesn’t mean it’s cool to start texting on every whim —  or, worse, calling instead of texting (a serious no-no when using your vet’s personal cell phone). Doing so is a surefire way to get your number blocked. (I’ve had to resort to this more than once.) And don’t ask your vet to give advice about your friend’s pet whom she’s never seen. 

10. Be respectful of your vet’s time. In most states, your veterinarian is required to enter your text conversation into your pet’s medical record. For clinics that have digital medical records, it may be relatively easy, but for clinics that don’t, it may take your veterinarian some time to do so. Keep in mind that you’re not paying for this time she’s investing in your pet.

11. Use pics where appropriate. Those of us who are more visually inclined gravitate to social media’s less verbal charms. After all, there’s no substitute for a photograph when we’re talking about certain kinds of health care concerns (lumps, bumps, lacerations, rashes, wounds, lesions, or infections). Texting — and including photos — is ideal for this kind of communication.

Pluses and Minuses

Any approach that 1) reaches me immediately at my current location, 2) gives me freedom to set my response time, and 3) lets me answer in writing tends to get me moving faster than other methods. There’s just something about the ease, immediacy and comfort of communicating via text that works — for me, anyway.

But texting isn’t for every veterinary professional. And it has its share of pitfalls. In fact, those who study social media in human medical settings claim texting lacks in the patient privacy department and makes it tough for doctors to maintain appropriate boundaries between professional and social relationships.

And I get it. But here’s the thing: Social media has already changed the way we do everything. It’s going to be hard to put that genie back in the bottle. So if texting is going to be done, you may as well learn to do it right.

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