A dream of mine came true today: I attended the first day of the Pfizer FRANK Communication workshop!
A little background about FRANK: it’s a veterinarian-client communication workshop designed to help practicing veterinarians and their staff communicate better and more effectively with their clients and team members. I first learned about it when our Pfizer Technical Services veterinarian, Dr. Joe Holzhauer, presented several “pieces” of the workshop at our hospital a few years ago. Ever since then I knew I wanted to take the full workshop, taught by Dr. Jane Shaw and colleagues, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
It’s a 1.5 day workshop, and today was Day 1. Somehow, I missed the advance reading assignment, so I was worried I would feel behind. Fortunately, the Frank presentation Dr. Holzhauer had brought to our hospital had prepared me well, and I’m interested enough in this stuff that I had already read one book (Exam Room Communication for Veterinarians by Dr. Jon Klingborg) and started another (Skills for Communicating with Patients by Silverman, Kurtz & Draper) on the subject of communicating effectively with clients.
We spent the first part of the morning learning some of the science behind improved communication skills. Not surprisingly, veterinarians who take the time to listen to their clients’ concerns can enjoy better compliance with their recommendations and achieve better patient care. The clients have an increased sense of satisfaction and have a better understanding of the recommendations being made. Studies in human medicine show that improved communication from the doctor yield improved clinical outcomes and decreases complaints and malpractice litigation.
We also discussed two main approaches to communication: the “shot-put” method and the “Frisbee” approach. As you can imagine, “shot-put” is one-way and can be overwhelming to clients due to the amount of information being dumped on the client. With the “Frisbee” approach, you have a two-way dialog with the client, listening to their needs and concerns, and shaping your recommendations to fit the situation. There has been a paradigm shift in veterinary medicine, getting away from the veterinarian-centered conversation (“I’m the doctor and I know best”) and moving towards “relationship-centered” communication where the dialogue is guided by feedback from the client. An important distinction to make: we do not practice consumerism, where the client says, “This is what I want,” and is not willing to have a back-and-forth dialogue.
In the afternoon, we practiced the communication skills we learned about in what was basically a wet lab setting! CSU has these exam rooms designed for the sole purpose of improving communication skills. A group of students can sit on one side of a one-way mirror, with headphones on, and listen to the conversation occurring in the exam room on the other side of the wall. Wow, how cool is that? There were six people in our group, and we each took turns interacting with a professional actor who portrayed a client in a pre-determined scenario. After our allotted time of 15 minutes, we all discussed how the interview went (what went well, what would be even better). I have no doubt that we all learned a ton from this!
An added benefit was when Dr. Shaw stopped by our room for a visit. Dr. Shaw is like the guru/goddess of veterinary communication training. Someone asked what are we supposed to do when a client with a sick parvo puppy gets mad at us because she doesn’t have the money to pay for treatment? She skillfully took on the role of an angry client, and I watched one of the members of our group struggle with what to say to her as she got angrier and angrier. Then we paused, discussed what could be done differently, and tried again. I watched with amazement as one of our group members skillfully employed empathy statements and long pauses to let the owner vent her frustrations. Eventually the anger gave way to just sadness, and seeing this transition—although it was really just acting—gave me confidence and peace of mind in knowing that it’s ok to just agree with a client about the sucky situation and just let them talk. You can’t make a bad situation not suck, but you can be there as a human being and listen to them. Sad, but touching. And instead of making the client angry that you didn’t help them, they will remember your compassion (and hopefully not write nasty reviews about you on Google!).
Tomorrow, we will do more communication lab work. The actors were fantastic, and the scenarios forced us to not worry so much about the medical/technical side of things so much as focus our attention on our communication skills.
I’m already looking forward to bringing these skills back to work with me, as I know I will be able to employ them immediately!!