Study examines how vets respond to clients during wellness exams, treating sick animals

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Jun 09, 2009
By dvm360.com staff
Fort Collins, Colo. -- During wellness check-ups, veterinarians tend to be personable and chatty with clients, but when it comes to problem appointments those same DVMs may hide behind their stethoscope, according to a recent study.

"We found a marked difference in the communication style of most veterinarians in problem versus wellness appointments, which swing from a relationship centered to a paternalistic style, respectively. You might ask 'so what?'" says Dr. Jane Shaw, director of the Argus Institute at Colorado State University, which conducted the study. "Because the challenge in problem appointments is that veterinarians may miss an opportunity to create a partnership with the client in caring for their pet - which can be key to the pet's recovery, and strengthen the relationship with their client."

It's important for veterinarians to assess their client's needs, and to remember that not all clients want the same approach, Shaw says.

Ask open-ended questions during the appointment, which encourages the client to open up and share his or her observations and to initiate collaboration with the veterinarian in their pet's care, she recommends.

Examples of open-ended questions include:

What questions do you have?
You seem a little hesitant about some of the treatment options. Tell me more about that.
What options have you considered?
What will be the most difficult for you?

"Without engaging the client in a conversation about their pet and obtaining their opinion, they aren't as likely to follow through on home care," Shaw says. "To achieve successful results veterinarians can empower their clients as partners by supporting their emotions, understanding their expectations and reaching a mutual agreement during problem appointments as well as during wellness appointments."