The Four Types of Client-Patient Relationships

Every day veterinarians see dozens of patients for an array of reasons. These patients differ in breed, size, demeanor, and condition. Another thing that always differs between patients is their connection with their owners. Even though all owners and pets are different, they can be classified into four types of client-patient relationships.

The Anthropomorphic Relationship

The most common client-patient relationships are emotion-based, anthropomorphic relationships. These clients place a high emotional value on their pets. They associate their pets with human emotions and human understanding, so their pet is seen more like a companion or friend than an animal. Many veterinarians noticed a spike in anthropomorphic client-patient relationships following the pandemic. During lockdown, people began to place more emotional and sentimental value on their pets due to staying home and only socializing with their pets. 

When anthropomorphic client-patient relationships are present, money is never an issue. These clients are willing to do anything and everything for their pets, no matter the price associated with them. The emotional value of the animal far outweighs any monetary value. If veterinarians possess this type of relationship with their patients, the probability of burnout drastically increases. Burnout increases as the loss of patients takes an emotional toll on the veterinarian. This can also lead to a change in patient relationships as the vet tries not to become emotionally involved at all. While anthropomorphic client-patient relationships are beneficial, the same is not always the case for veterinarians. 

The Integrated Client-Patient Relationship

What if a client places some emotional value on their pet but focuses on the facts? This type of client-patient relationship is classified as an integrated relationship. The owner values the animal’s life and understands the scientific data that explains their pet’s condition. These clients have limits on how much they will put into veterinary care for their pets, including how much time and money they are willing to spend. Unlike anthropomorphic relationships, these clients commonly draw the line based on cost. While they are emotionally connected to their pet, they have set boundaries.

According to Ann Wortinger, many veterinarians fall within the integrated client-patient relationship because of their scientific thinking. They place emotional value on their pets, but they understand the scientific data associated with different conditions. Beyond their own pets, many veterinarians have integrated relationships with their patients. 

Chattel Relationships

Chattel relationships are on the opposite end of the spectrum from anthropomorphic. These relationships involve little to no emotional connection between the client and their pet. Instead, these relationships are more work-based. According to the Cone of Shame Podcast, this type of relationship is most common in situations where the dog is seen as a tool, such as serving as a guard dog or police dog. The relationship they have is strictly work-based.

This client-patient relationship type is also common among livestock producers and farmers that run large operations. The connection between the farmer and their livestock may be production-based. This means they would be willing to pay whatever is needed to save a high-producing dairy calf or a heifer that throws high-quality calves because of their value in production. However, a producer with anthropomorphic relationships would provide the animal with needed care because of their emotional connection to the animal.

The Mixed Relationship

The mixed client-patient relationship is most commonly found within a family. It is uncommon but possible for a single client to fall within the mixed relationship category. The most common dynamic associated with this relationship is the anthropomorphic perspective of a child and chattel or integrated thinking represented by the parents. The younger group is very connected with the patient, while the adults may realize the financial implications or factual data associated with a patient diagnosis. One of the biggest challenges presented with this type of relationship is meeting the needs of all parties.

Managing All Four Relationship Types

Handling clients can be challenging, especially when they receive bad news about their pets. By understanding the four types of client-patient relationships, you can better care for your clients and patients. This will drastically improve your ability to discuss patient care and treatment options, along with providing support for clients during difficult times. Whether they possess an anthropomorphic or chattel relationship, all patients and clients deserve the best possible care that meets their needs. 

Skip to content