Using your Practice Overview Reports to anticipate compassion fatigue
As an industry we tend to like quantitative indicators of our practice’s health. VetSuccess does a great job of providing many metrics that you can use to track your practice’s progress, and even anticipate negative trends or changes. As a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional, I like to look for unique ways to not only see the financial health of your practice but also the health of your staff. While it’s natural to focus on things like new clients and lapsing patients, I’d like to point out a few early indicators for Compassion Fatigue within your Practice Overview Reports (POR).
When I am speaking to groups about Compassion Fatigue, I describe it as:
“A natural result of witnessing pain of others.”
Charles Figley who, by all accounts, is the “father” of Compassion Fatigue describes it as: “…helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” How do you feel when a client calls you hysterical that they just ran over their own pet? Or, when you are doing a euthanasia on a patient of an elderly client, who has nothing left but that animal? I’d anticipate it’s gut wrenching, and totally changes the path of your day. I’d take it a step further and say you likely even think about those clients when you’re not at work. This, my colleagues, is the epitome of Compassion Fatigue.
Now that we have a better understanding of what Compassion Fatigue is, let’s take a look at sections in your VetSuccess POR that can help you anticipate it within your practice.
On the second page of the POR you will see the Patient Activity Details. As one of VetSuccess’ CVPM consultants I encourage practices to use this as a scorecard to share with their staff. This summary can show how their efforts with marketing and lapsing patient are paying off. When thinking about Compassion Fatigue indicators, one of the biggest things I hear from staff and doctors is that the number of euthanasias is a consistent trigger.
As you can see in Figure 1, this practice had 66 deceased patients in this month, which had 25 work days. This means that this practice experienced over 2 deceased patients per work day. While it may seem like a relatively low number we must keep in mind that the same staff were exposed to those deceased patients, every day. This number is reflective of not only euthanasias but also natural deaths and DOAs. When it comes to Compassion Fatigue the exposure to death alone is a factor; the way in which those patients passed away can only exacerbate the effects, especially if they were traumatic deaths and/or were long-term patients.
It’s natural, of course, that the larger a practice is the more deceased patients they will experience. This does not mean that the effects are diluted across the practice. The idea of Compassion Fatigue is that you experience another’s pain, even the pain of other staff members. Compassion Fatigue is contagious, and if someone witnesses a traumatic event, it can easily become someone else’s story.
Be proactive and watch for sudden increases in deceased patients within your practice. Look at your PORs for the last few months and see how these numbers are trending. Team members who are exposed to consistent trauma will find a way to cope with it, at least on the outside. Just because you are averaging 2 deceased patients a day, for a year, doesn’t mean that there is not a chance for Compassion Fatigue to set in. What it means is that your staff have likely suppressed their feelings, and one rough month, or day, will be enough for symptoms to surface.
Wanting to help a patient that cannot be helped, either due to finances or their condition, is another trigger for many Veterinary professionals. We naturally see a higher prevalence of incurable conditions in geriatric patients. Keeping this in mind, your VetSuccess POR can give you another measureable indicator of your staff’s susceptibility to Compassion Fatigue.
Under the “Patient Demographic” section, VetSuccess takes your active patients and separates them into age groups. You will see in Figure 2 that we have a practice that has a low percentage of adult and senior patients, compared to the percentage of young adults.
Now compare that to Figure 3 where the percentage of senior canines is 51%, which is significantly larger than other age categories with an average Canine age of 7 as opposed to 5.7. With this practice I would strongly suggest focusing on internal marketing plans for senior wellness and education. I would also suggest that management be aware of the large percentage of senior patients and the impact this will have on their employees. As the staff see these patients deteriorate and receive grave prognoses, it will gradually begin to impact their performance and job satisfaction.
A healthy practice not only has strong financial health, but also strong employee health. Investing in your staff’s psychological health is difficult for some owners/managers to justify because there is no obvious return-on-investment. I would argue that psychologically healthy employees take better care of patients, make less mistakes and have higher job satisfaction. Ultimately, this reduces your attrition rates and provides your clients with the best care and service possible. Compassion Fatigue is much like Veterinary Medicine in that the more we focus on preventative medicine, the better it is for our staff and patients.
Brandon Hess CVPM, CCFP is an Associate Consultant with VetSupport and a founding member of the Southwestern Ohio Veterinary Management Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.