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The Prescription is an Examination and Diagnosis

June 21, 2022
The steps used by the medical community are identical to the steps plumbers should use on a service call... Start with the exam. Move to the diagnosis. Make a prescription.

Shawn Henson is a successful plumber who gives back to his profession by teaching other plumbers sound business practices. One of these is to conduct a thorough diagnosis, which results in happier homeowners, higher average tickets, greater profitability, and fewer callbacks.

What Do Doctors Do?

When you visit a doctor for an ailment, what happens? Before you even get to see the doctor, a nurse collects a host of diagnostic information on you. You get weighed. Your blood pressure is taken. Your heart rate is checked. Then, the doctor sees you.

The first thing the doc does is look over your file and asks a few open-ended questions about how you are feeling and the purpose of your visit. Based on your answers, the doc will start an examination. In the exam, he might use a stethoscope to check the rhythm of your heartbeat, your lungs, and so on. He might tap on your knee or tendons to make sure your nerves are sending the right signals to your brain. He might look at your eyes for clues about your liver health.

He might do all of these things whether they are directly related to the symptoms you reported or not. The doctor is simply being thorough. He is making sure nothing else wrong. If something is wrong, it is better for your health to catch it early.

Based on the visit, additional tests might be required. These can include X-rays, blood tests, urine tests, EKGs, and so on.

When the doctor collects enough information, he makes a diagnosis. He tells you what’s wrong. Then, he makes a prescription. Some prescriptions involve medication. Some involve behavioral changes. Some involve additional medical procedures. He can’t make the prescription until he makes the diagnosis. He can’t make a diagnosis until he conducts an examination.

What Plumbers Should Do

The steps used by the medical community are identical to the steps plumbers should use on a service call, with slight modifications. Start with the exam. Move to the diagnosis. Make a prescription.


When a plumber arrives at the home, he should be professional and attentive. Ask open ended questions and take notes. The homeowner might reveal information about additional problems. Pursue those. Ask clarifying questions.

Plumbing company owners should work with their plumbers to decide what should be part of every home examination. By asking your plumbers, you gain buy-in on the process. Consider checking hot and cold water lines, drains and drain lines, gas lines, vents, water heaters, water closets, shut off valves, faucets, and disposals. Give your people time to be thorough and do the job right.


The first obligation is to address the problem the homeowner called about. However, do not simply accept the symptom. Make sure you are addressing the cause of the symptom. Then, let the homeowner know about other things you checked.

Most will be in great shape. If so, tell the homeowner. Some will require attention in the future. Inform the homeowner what you found and what the homeowner can do. Often, there will be problems that should be addressed now to prevent bigger issues in the future. If is the plumber’s obligation to let people know what they are facing.


The plumber’s prescription is his recommendations. When applicable, the plumber should give options. Sometimes people will want the low-cost solution because they lack the money for anything else. Other times, they will want to simply replace a product. Or, they might choose to upgrade to a better product. Yet, in order for people to consider the options, the plumber must present them.

Be a Professional

Like doctors, plumbers are professionals. Like doctors, they should take a professional prescriptive approach by first performing a thorough examination. This should be followed with their professional diagnosis of the problems and potential problems identified. Finally, they give their prescriptions, including options.

At this point, it is up to the customer to decide on a course of action. Remember, they want to follow a course of action. That’s why they called for service in the first place.

In 2014, CONTRACTOR Magazine named Matt Michel one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing and hydronics industries. He can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 877/262-3341. Visit his website at

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