You spend your days listening to clients’ tales of births and deaths, loves lost and found, workplace betrayals and triumphs, and family illnesses and injuries. But how well do you really know your clients?

Sure, you know who had the flu last winter and who’s gone off the pill, but have you ever gathered the health history necessary to ensure your services are as personalized as the conversations?

On the surface, hand and foot services appear relatively benign, but “what for a normal person would be fine and adequate can have dire consequences for an older smoker or diabetic,” says Johanna Youner, D.P.M., a podiatrist in New York City. “If a person is on blood thinners, for example, a small incision can cause delayed blood clotting along with worry and fear from the client.”

Likewise, a new client may not reveal that she’s treating herself to a pedicure to celebrate her new pregnancy — but you definitely need to know to avoid reflexology massage and certain essential oils. Similarly, you need to cool the water temperature for diabetic clients and take special precautions against cutting their skin.

A few nail techs told NAILS they don’t ask clients for a health history because they’re concerned it would either offend clients or scare them off. But Laura Mix, owner of Footworks in Elk Grove, Calif., says clients have never protested at filling out her salon’s health questionnaire. “At the beginning of the form we explain that it assists us in personalizing the services they have requested and ensures the most enjoyable experience,” she says.

A client health history also affords some protection against professional liability — if you ask the right questions. In addition to collecting a basic health history, take this opportunity to learn about the client’s previous salon experiences as well as any negative reactions she may have had to nail and skin care products. It’s also a good idea to note the current condition of her hands and feet and to document any existing nail disorders or damage.

If you’re concerned about conveying the wrong message to the client by presenting her with a detailed form to fill out, incorporate your questions into your initial client consultation. Tara Oolie, co-owner of Just Calm Down in New York City, says her staff interviews clients and fills out the spa’s questionnaire for them. This approach puts clients at ease while helping you get to know them quickly.

“I would rather ask these questions myself and have more of an opportunity to discuss things with them,” agrees Christine Turner, Body & Sol Tanning, Nails and Day Spa in New Westminster, British Columbia.

However you do it, Mix can’t emphasize enough the need to know your clients’ health background at least as well as their personal history. “My husband [Godfrey Mix, D.P.M.] has several true horror stories about nail professionals who didn’t document their clients’ history — including one in which a client lost a finger and tried to blame it on the nail tech,” she says.

In addition to gathering a health history, take this opportunity to learn more about your clients’ lifestyles. You just may be surprised. “I had one girl who kept coming in with her nails just shattered and it turns out she plays volleyball,” Turner says. The client never thought to mention her sport because it had never caused her nails to break before.

Finish the client health questionnaire with your own observations of the client’s hands and feet. Not only can these observations protect you against claims for pre-existing nail damage, but it may prove useful as an ongoing point of reference. “Once you put on overlays and do a few fills, you forget what the client’s natural nail looked like,” Turner points out.

[NAILS drew on the input of various nail techs, salon and spa owners, and doctors to develop this sample client health questionnaire on page 90. Copy the questionnaire “as is” for use in your salon or use it as a template for developing your own client health form.]


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