Excited to practice my new communication skills (see my recent post about the FRANK Communication Workshop I attended), I picked up the phone to dial my 4:30 consultation about some rabbits. The client lived far away and had questions regarding her “herd” of about 100 rabbits (started as a 4-H project). The staff had warned me this would be a challenging conversation.
An hour later, I sighed as I hung up the phone, having barely used ANY of my newly honed skills. In fact, I barely got a word in edgewise.
Luckily, we pre-arranged payment by credit card at a rate of $25 per 15 minutes, because apparently it was not possible to spend less than 20 minutes on the phone with her. And she had a LOT of questions.
Wisely, I opened a blank Word document to take notes during our call. Trying to keep up with what could most aptly be described as “verbal diarrhea” was nearly impossible. I thought my notes would be helpful for practicing my reflective listening–ha! I could have set the phone down, walked away for 5-10 minutes, come back, and she still would have been talking. I literally had to interrupt numerous times to clarify important details or make what I hoped was a useful contribution to the discussion. I’m pretty sure I never asked an open-ended question and lord knows I never had a chance to pause!!
To my pleasant surprise, I could hear her trying to wrap things up as the clock ticked closer to 60 minutes. I asked if the conversation had been helpful for her, and she said yes.
In fact, she will try to bring a couple of her rabbits to come see me some time. I wonder what that will be like?
A recent post on A Vet’s Guide to Life, Proper Communication, discussed some important points when it comes to communicating with pet owners. The post started with an email from a vet tech (and vet student hopeful–good luck!) who shared her observations about doctor-client communication. She cited specific examples of conversation snippets that might sound odd or be misinterpreted by a lay person (which most pet owners are, with some exceptions of course).
Here’s one example she used: “Once, she [the veterinarian] told someone with a puppy who was leaking urine that she wanted to ultrasound him in back to ‘see if he had a bladder’–meaning check to see if his bladder was full–so we could get a urine sample. The owner blinked her eyes and said, ‘is it possible that he might not have a bladder?’ to which the doctor replied, ‘sure, especially if he just urinated.'”
This observation illustrates a couple important points:
- The veterinarian is oblivious to the fact that her nonchalant explanation, while it makes perfect sense to her, can easily be misinterpreted by someone who interprets a more literal meaning.
- The perspective of the vet tech watching this conversation take place is removed enough from the situation to catch this potential problem and identify it as such.
I like learning from these kinds of alternative, fly-on-the-wall perspectives. I think it takes the perspective of someone removed enough from the situation to catch these potential communication gaps. I’m an advocate for video recording exam room etiquette so as to analyze your body language and communication style, but would the vet, if she watched a video of this exchange, even detect that her choice of words could be confusing? I think most vets who are comfortable with their communication style would not notice the lack of understanding on the part of the owner.
I applaud the vet tech who made this observation (and others mentioned in the original post). I think the truly great vets are ones who not only understand the complexities of veterinary medicine, but can communicate complex issues in a way that non-medical pet owners can understand. This is something I struggle with every day, and one of the reasons I started this blog.
For vets interested in expanding their ability to communicate effectively, consider enrolling in the PfizerFrank Communication Training. I haven’t done the actual 2-day workshop at Colorado State University, but we’ve had some in-clinic Frank training which has been very illuminating and helpful.