FORT COLLINS, COLO. — Often, veterinarians cite client relations as one of their most difficult challenges.
But Colorado State University's Argus Institute and Pfizer Animal Health are working to help veterinarians deal with clients
more effectively through a program called Frank.
Argus Institute Director Jane Shaw, DVM, Ph.D., says the program was developed in collaboration with Pfizer as a way to facilitate
client communication. "The thought was: How can we create a program where we can support vets in having an honest and clear
conversation with clients?"
Frank workshops, typically running over two days, begin with interactive warmups as a large group. Participants focus on eight
key communication skills like asking open-ended questions and using reflective listening and empathy during conversations
with clients. Small group exercises that follow identify reasons to use these skills in daily practice, such as to reduce
client complaints, enhance teamwork, improve client satisfaction and enhance the morale of the work environment.
One particular exercise compares communication style to playing Frisbees and throwing shot-puts.
"Shot-put is a one-person sport with a lot of heavy data in hand and downloaded to the client. It's really hard to catch a
shot-put; it's very heavy. Think of being knocked unconscious with the volume and complexity of the information," Shaw explains.
With Frisbee, the veterinarian gives a light piece of information, the client absorbs that information and provides dialogue
back. Then, the veterinarian offers another light piece of information, thereby continuing the dialogue.
"You are more likely to keep a client on the same page throughout discussion," Shaw says of the Frisbee technique.
In the most effective and most stressful part of the workshop, trained actors go through typical case scenarios with each
veterinarian while they are videotaped in front of their colleagues. They are then given a chance to self-assess and get feedback
from their peers and the "client."
"It's what they're most nervous about, but it's the part of the workshop they get the most out of," Shaw says.
Ann Hohenhaus, veterinary oncologist at the Animal Medical Center in New York City, blogged about her recent participation
in the workshop.
"I came home determined to do a better job at listening to my clients and letting them talk. Better communication results
in better pet-owner compliance with medical recommendations and better compliance means healthier pets," Hohenhaus says. "Knowing
this, how could I not work to improve my communication skills?"
The next Frank offering is set for later this month at the North American Veterinary Conference, but Shaw says additional
dates for 2011 have not been set. For more information, visit