What to do when there is a dog in your waiting room

Waiting room

People love their dogs and they love taking them places with them--everywhere it seems, including the doctor’s office.

In some cases, the dogs (and other animals) may belong to patients with physical or emotional disabilities who rely on service or therapy animals to help them, according to a Medscape report, that detailed some of the do's and don’ts in dealing with patients’  animals. In other cases, they may just be your patient’s pet. It’s hard to tell, because service dogs aren’t required to wear a service-dog vest, which anyone can buy online. And patients may not have a visible disability.

So, what should you do if you find you have a dog in your waiting room? If you are concerned, the article advises that you can ask two questions allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which defines a service animal and allows them legal rights in terms of access. You can ask if the person requires the animal because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to performed

"If the person gives you a relatively straightforward answer and the dog is behaving well, let it go and assume it's a service dog," Jenine Stanley, consumer relations coordinator for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and its sister organization, America's VetDogs, told Medscape.

Your best strategy may be just to keep quiet, if the dog is well behaved and not bothering other patients. Otherwise, if you raise a stink about a patient’s best friend, you may find he or she writes a nasty online review about you, said Amanda Kanaan, president of WhiteCoat Designs, a North Carolina medical marketing firm.

You also don’t want to risk violating a disabled person’s civil rights and you can create a public relations nightmare for your practice, lawyer John Ensminger told the publication.

Be sure and train your staff to know how to handle a situation where a patient comes in with their dog or other animal, according to the article. Employees should politely address patients, since rude staff can always damage the patient experience. And you might want to consider a sign by the front desk that says “service dogs only, please” to deter patients from bringing their family pet into the office.

- read the article