Vets need to change how they connect with clients, research suggests

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Vets could do better in the way they communicate with their clients, according to British researchers.

Doctoral researcher Alison Bard and her colleagues from the University of Bristol found that veterinarians tended to communicate in a directive style. In their study, they found there was minimal eliciting of client opinion and the vets dominated the consultation agenda.

In short, the vets tended to take a paternalistic role in consultations.

The findings of the study, published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, were based on the analysis of recordings of role-play consultations on lameness and mastitis between 15 cattle veterinarians in South West England and an actress experienced in role-play scenarios in both medical and veterinary education.

The research has shown a change is needed in how veterinarians communicate with and advise animal owners, to promote engagement with their advice and protect the animals in their care.

The researchers from the university’s School of Veterinary Sciences said the directive style of vets tended to reduce a client’s sense of emotional connection to their veterinarian, whilst limiting their personal choice and self-direction in the decision-making process.

This consultation method, combined with its conflict with these basic motivational drives, may contribute to why a low uptake of veterinary recommendations is reported throughout the profession.

One solution could be the use of evidence-based communication approaches that have been tried and tested in the medical profession.

“Veterinarians are working hard to connect with their clients and promote the health of animals in their care, but being a veterinarian is not just about communicating science and methodology,” Bard says.

“Communication must also inspire motivation, prompt action and boost confidence for an animal carer to put veterinary advice into practice.

“The problem our research identified is that the perceived role of the veterinarian – to provide advice and solutions – leads to a personal communication style that leaves little room for empathy or client input.

“This style comes at a high cost for client engagement with advice, as we know from wider research that relational interaction and active participation of clients is essential for inspiring a change in behaviour.

“For the typical veterinarian, this may be surprising, as the clinical accuracy and relevance of advice has traditionally (and intuitively) been the focus of advisory services.”

The research team believes a shift in veterinarian’s perceptions of advisory consultations is needed to improve the uptake of advice.

“As a profession, veterinarians can benefit from recognising that behaviour change is incredibly complex,” Bard says.

“Being provided with the ‘right’ advice is not always enough for clients to put veterinary recommendations into action, especially where disease management is complicated and clients have mixed feelings over treatment options.

“How information is communicated in these cases affects client outcomes, meaning the difference between a motivated and unmotivated client can – in fact – be shaped by the veterinarian.”

The research team hopes that this study will help veterinarians to think differently about their consultations by encouraging them to consider how their communication may be influencing client motivation and behaviour.

As a result, they hope veterinarians will think carefully before using labels like ‘unmotivated’ or ‘resistant to advice’, and instead explore whether their clients are perhaps just in need of emotional support, personal choice or a sense of self-confidence to truly engage with veterinary recommendations.

Dr Kristen Reyher, senior lecturer in farm animal science, said the paper would help to inform and support the evolving veterinary profession.

“I’m confident that change can be achieved with the help of on-going research.”

Bard AM, Main DCJ, Haase AM, Whay HR, Roe EJ, Reyher KK (2017) The future of veterinary communication: Partnership or persuasion? A qualitative investigation of veterinary communication in the pursuit of client behaviour change. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0171380. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171380

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ can be read here

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