AAEP Commission on Veterinary Sustainability: A Guide for Setting Communication Boundaries in Equine Practice

The AAEP Practice Culture Subcommittee has created a guide that veterinarians can use to set communication boundaries within their practice.
A vet setting a communication boundary with a client while smiling and standing next to a horse.
Defining clear communication boundaries with clients can lead to greater happiness in equine practice. | Getty Images

Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful equine veterinary practice, as it ensures that the veterinary team and clients are on the same page. However, maintaining a healthy work-life balance and promoting efficient teamwork also requires setting clear communication boundaries. Without such boundaries, overextending work-related communication can lead to burnout, stress, and strained personal relationships, ultimately affecting the quality of care provided to the equine patients and the culture within the team. Clear communication boundaries are essential for preserving the well-being of the veterinary team and maintaining a professional relationship with clients. 

Consider the Boundaries Within Your Team

Define After-Hours Communication

One vital step in setting communication boundaries is specifying when and how team members want to be contacted after hours. Make sure to solicit input from everyone. It’s important to refrain from contacting employees during their days off or outside of agreed-upon work hours. This practice ensures that everyone has time to recharge and disconnect from work.

Document and Share Communication Plans

Ensure that all doctors and team members have a clear understanding of the communication plan. Encourage the documentation of client interactions and medical records in a timely fashion in order to keep the team informed. Cloud-based software allows for medical records to be kept up-to-date even if team members are not physically present in the office.

Utilize Messaging Software

Consider employing messaging software such as Slack or WhatsApp to centralize team communication. These platforms allow employees to silence notifications during off-hours and create a clear separation between work and personal life. Alternatively, providing team members with work-specific phones that they turn off when not working can be an effective solution.

Consider the Boundaries with Clients

Define Office Hours

Clearly establish office hours when clients can contact the veterinary practice. Make these hours accessible on your website and in client communications, so clients know when they can reach out. Provide timely responses when you are expected to be available but hold firm on boundaries when clients inevitably push the line and try to communicate at times that are not convenient for the veterinarian.

Educate Clients

Proactively educate clients about your communication protocols. Explain the appropriate channels for different types of inquiries, such as appointments, medication refills, or general questions. Have a template that anyone on the team can use when speaking with clients about these expectations. Providing this information upfront can minimize misunderstandings and after-hours calls. Make sure all team members are on board and hold clients to the same standards.

Create a Separate Emergency Line

Clients should have access to a dedicated emergency contact line for urgent equine issues. This helps prevent non-urgent inquiries from intruding on the veterinary team’s personal time. For smaller practices or ones without access to answering services, cloud-based phone systems such as Grasshopper or Ooma can help to handle multiple lines and create triage systems.

Communicate Boundaries Clearly

Transparency is key to setting and maintaining communication boundaries. Share your communication guidelines with the entire veterinary team, and ensure that clients are aware of your practice’s policies. Being open about these boundaries from the outset will help manage expectations and reduce potential conflicts. Clients are able to feel valued and heard, even as you maintain your boundaries, as long as you are clear from the onset about your communication needs.

For the Long Haul

Setting communication boundaries within the equine veterinary team and with clients is crucial for ensuring a healthy work-life balance, preventing burnout and maintaining professional relationships. By clearly defining when and how team members can be contacted, documenting and sharing communication plans, and utilizing messaging software, equine veterinarians can foster a more harmonious working environment. With clients, it’s essential to define office hours, create a separate emergency line, and educate clients about communication protocols. Striking the right balance between professionalism and approachability while communicating boundaries will help you provide top-notch equine care while also preserving your well-being and that of your team. In doing so, you’ll set a positive example for other equine veterinarians who may be struggling to establish effective communication boundaries.

The Practice Culture Subcommittee has developed a resource to help you work through these ideas with your team. The “Communication Boundaries for the Equine Practice” booklet is available here.

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