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Are you asking your veterinary clients the right question?

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Jun 1st 2014 - By Dr Liz Chmurycz, Russell Vale Animal Clinic
Are You Asking The Right Question

"Do you have any concerns today?"

In veterinary consultation rooms all over the world, this question is being asked, in one way or another. Who would’ve thought though, that the way we ask this question can make a huge difference on how the consultation plays out, and how satisfied the client is at the end of it?

During the 2014 AVA Conference on Best Practice, there were many sessions dedicated to different aspects of the client – animal interaction, as the focus was on how to do the best thing by all parties.  Dr Coe’s sessions, in particular, focused on communication between vets and clients, and within the veterinary team itself.

The ultimate goal of every client interaction is a great outcome – a satisfied client, a (hopefully) healthy pet/herd, and a contented happy vet.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end that way.  Sometimes we can prevent that, and sometimes we can’t.

A better outcome can start with the words that come out of our mouths (as veterinarians).   How you ask the question "Do you have any concerns today?" can make a big difference in the final outcome – from client satisfaction, engagement, and of course from the pet’s perspective, a happy healthy pet.

Changing words from  “What are you feeding your pet” to “Walk me through the last 24 hours”, and “Do you have any concerns today?” to “So what concerns do you have today”, can make a big difference on the quality of the information that is shared by the pet owner, according to Dr Jason Coe.

We know that in many cases, 80% of the diagnosis is in the quality of the history, so being able to get to that gold nugget of information without making the owner feel defensive is a real skill.  And the beauty of communication is it is a skill that can be learnt.  

A classic example that springs to mind is the vomiting dog, who ate half a pork roast the night before, but when the owner is asked “What do you feed your dog” they just say “kibble”.  What do you think they would’ve answered if they were asked: “Walk me through the last 24 hours”?

Communicating well in a consultation is not about personality and it isn’t an issue of 'you either have it or you don’t'.  Connecting with a pet owner in a consultation room is a skill that can be learnt, practised and mastered like any other skill.  You don’t have to be a natural to master it, but you do need to be willing to learn.

To my surprise in the sessions on communication that I attended, the majority of the audience were vets who had been practising for longer than 20 years (including me).  It surprised me because you would’ve thought we were masters at communication after all these years.  But Dr Coe made a valid point “Experience is excellent at reinforcing habit” (in other words, we may not always learn and listen).

Why did I attend these sessions on communication?  Because I wanted the exact same outcome for a sick pet that a loving pet owner has.  I want a satisfied owner with a healthy pet.  And listening to the questions that were asked during the session, all of my colleagues felt the same.

There are always going to be clients who prefer the dictatorial approach of “you will do this and this”, but most clients are invested in their pet’s wellbeing through their intensive internet research and advice from friends, and this bossy approach in modern veterinary practice simply will not work.

Recognising the owner’s investment in the knowledge they have garnered themselves, using language that pet owners understand without being patronising, asking the right questions in the right way, without being judgemental or forcing them into a defensive position, is what modern veterinary practice is truly all about.

As vets, we are always striving for client satisfaction and improving our communication with our pet owners is the best way of achieving that. 

Dr Liz Chmurycz is a  companion animal veterinarian, based at Russell Vale Animal Clinic, in Wollongong, Australia. As a solo vet and business owner, she is also a mother of four children. She is passionate about the veterinary profession, and the animals she sees. 

You can read Dr Liz's Blog here: Dr Liz...the vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic

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