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Blog entry by Janusz Siurek

Interpersonal communication of veterinary doctor - the science based approach

Interpersonal communication of veterinary doctor - the science based approach

Veterinary doctors are a specialized group of professionals in the medical field, who after graduation have to tackle various specific situations in the workplace. Every year, the number of practicing veterinarians increases all over Europe. At the same time, in their daily professional practice, doctors seem to face more and more demanding clients – animal owners. They often face the challenge of their clients’ changing attitudes, needs or increasingly demanding approaches, which can be a serious barrier at work. Communication with an animal owner is a very specific type of contact. It includes the skills of personal communication and requires a certain level of empathy, but also the knowledge how to conduct a conversation with the client to receive the necessary information to effectively diagnose the health problem, communicate during the treatment of the animal, and encourage the client to continue treatment to successfully complete the entire medical course for the benefit of the patient. 


Interpersonal communication is considered to be one of core skill for veterinary doctors in the veterinary practice[1] [2]. Effective communication between veterinary doctor and client has a crucial role in establishing trustful relation, has an influence on client’s experience and understanding[3]. Good communication also has an impact on the recommended veterinary treatment results and improves patient outcomes[4].


Communication skills have been defined by W.J. HAMOOD and colleagues, as “abilities to structure a consultation, build a relationship with a client, gather information, offer explanation and engage in planning, and tailor the dialogue to the client’s needs”[5].


Communication skills in veterinary medicine have been further defined by some researchers as  “content skills” (meaning information gathered and given), “process skills” (meaning how is the communication process is being delivered), and “perceptual skills” (including ability to understand and perceive, be aware of feelings, and express compassion)[6].


Interpersonal communication of the veterinary doctor with client for the purpose of this course is defined as a competence that includes: knowledge of essential communication patterns, strategies and techniques, skills necessary for effective communication with animal owners and a positive attitude required for a veterinary doctor communication self-development, self-awareness and positive attitude towards open communication, collaboration and integrity.


There are several researchers that have explored factors that define effective communication in veterinary practice. Among these are building efficient client-relationship, meeting client expectations, effectively dealing with communication challenges, and considering the human-animal bond.


What are the challengies? 


A qualitative study[7] designed to explore communication in veterinary medicine identified a number of challenges in communicating with clients. One challenge was related to so called “selling service,” which meant some routine, preventative care. “Respondents recommended having a semi-scripted dialogue that allowed the veterinary surgeon to present the rationale for the owner to agree to the service. One challenge identified in using this approach was making sure that the veterinary surgeon strikes the right balance between respecting the emotional considerations of the client and serving the commercial needs of the practice”. The study mentioned the challenge of explaining costs of veterinary service to clients. The authors emphasise the importance of flexibility, avoiding assumptions, and approaching the discussion with an open mind. Mishandling cost discussions was believed to be a source of potential confrontation and complaints.


In order to properly identify emotions of a client and a patient, it is important for the veterinary doctor to be able to observe and understand non-verbal communication, which is crucial for that process. Non-verbal communication includes, among others: body posture, facial expressions, tone of a voice etc. Non-verbal communication well recognised helps to build rapport with a client and to “demonstrate empathy, which is getting to the heart of the problem and relieving emotional distress”[8].

Author: Inga Kołomyjska, MVD


[1] CORNELL KK, KOPCHA M. Client-veterinarian communication: skills for client-centered dialogue and shared decision making. Vet Clin. North Am Small Anim Pract 2007; 37(1): 37-47

[2] SHAW, J. R., BARLEY, G. E., HILL, A. E., LARSON, S. & ROTER, 17 D. L. (2010) Communication skills education onsite in a veterinary practice. Patient Education and Counseling 80, 337-344

[3] GRAND, J. A., LLOYD, J. W., ILGEN, D. R., ABOOD, S. & SONEA, 10 I. M. (2013) A measure of and predictors for veterinarian trust developed with veterinary students in a simulated companion animal practice. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 242, 322-333

[4] ABOOD, S. K. (2007) Increasing adherence in practice: making your clients partners in care. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice 37, 151-164

[5] HAMOOD, W. J., CHUR-HANSEN, A. & MCARTHUR, M. L. 2014. A qualitative study to explore communication skills in veterinary medical education. International Journal of Medical Education, 5, 193-198.

[6] ADAMS, C. L. & KURTZ, S. 2017. Skills for Communicating in Veterinary Medicine, Oxford, United Kingdom, Otmoor Publishing

[7] HAMOOD, W. J. at al…, 2014.

[8] HARDEE JY, PLATTFW, KASPER IK. Discussing health care costs with patients: an opportunity for empathic communication. J Gen Intern Med 2005;20:666–9.

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