The art of communication.

Time has flown past this week, and I can’t believe it’s a Friday today.

It has been an extremely eventful week where I had the privilege of speaking to a number of people from different aspects of this veterinary industry.

The most important take home message I got was the importance of effective communication.

Many young aspiring veterinarians will tell you that they want to enter this profession because they want to work with just animals.
Little do they know that once they step out into the real world as a veterinarian, they will spend most of their time talking to people and dealing with clients.

Call it health care or the medical industry; ultimately Veterinarians are in the business of customer service. As much as we do get to practise medicine and apply our surgical skills to relevant areas, vets do spend a huge proportion of their time talking, selling, discussing, convincing, updating, consoling, checking in with pet owners… or rather customers.

A lecturer from university shared the story of a vet he knew that had excellent PR skills; this vet knew his client’s background and their family histories at the back of his hand. A consult with him would revolve around discussing the latest updates/dramas and inspite of his mediocre veterinary skills, his clients loved and thought he was the best vet in town.

Communication is a skill so essential in this industry, yet interestingly enough- we were not taught this. Then again, I’m not sure if this is actually something that can be taught through books and education, or if  it is simply a life skill that differentiate the boys from the men.

The truth about the medical industry is that there is a huge lack of knowledge (understandably so- talk to me about finance and accounting and I instantly reach a dead end). A large percentage of patients and clients are often thrown into a situation where they are so overwhelmed by the medical condition that they are unable to exercise logic and make informed decisions.

Others are simply unable to follow what the practitioner is attempting to explain.. At times, the practitioner himself/ herself is unable to convey the message across due to an inability to be succinct. Other times the client may simply be in denial.

I personally try to ensure that the client is on the same page or understands the gravity of the situation before I let them walk out of my consult room.  I often print an information sheet/ leaflet for them to have a read when they are home (statistics show that people are often only able to absorb approx. 20-40% of a conversation in a consult room). I find that this is extremely effective, especially if it’s regarding a condition they personally have never heard about. In addition, discharge notes are terribly useful in driving in the take home message.

I once had a client who refused to believe that chocolate was toxic to dogs and that the active compound in chocolates gets reabsorbed in the bladder (I was trying to encouraged her to walk the dog every few hours to encourage micturition). It was like she finally saw the light after I provided her the information sheet on chocolate toxicity. She was extremely grateful and thankful that she took home some new knowledge aside from her veterinary bill.

Miscommunication is often the culprit in a dissatisfied client (of course there are unreasonable ones as well, but we are not going there). As much as it is the responsibility of the vet/ veterinary staff to explain the service offered to you, it is ALSO the responsibility of the client to ensure that they have their questions answered before the leave the premises.

Work alongside your vet, as I believe that your vets are trying their best to assist you and your pet. Do remember that it does take 2 to tango !

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