4 essential communication habits from Cindy Adams

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Aug 01, 2008
By dvm360.com staff


Cindy Adams, PhD
Cindy Adams, MSW, PhD, a veterinary communications professor at the University of Calgary, has researched techniques shown to be effective in human medicine and applied them to the veterinary profession. Here are four habits that all practitioners can develop for successful client interaction:

1. Invest in the beginning

When you greet a client, it's important to establish rapport, elicit her concerns, and plan out the visit.

> Introduce yourself and acknowledge the client's wait, if she had one.

> Ask open-ended questions, such as "I understand that you're here about Shadow's listlessness. Could you tell me more about that?"

> Map out a plan. Here's an example: "How about if we start with talking more about the listlessness, then I'll do an exam, and then we'll go over possible tests and ways to approach this. Sound OK?"

2. Elicit the client's perspective

This is where you ask for the client's ideas, draw out specific expectations and requests, and explore the impact the problem is having on the patient's and client's lives. Here are some techniques:

> Assess the client's point of view by asking, "What do you think is causing Shadow's symptoms?" and "What worries you most?"

> Determine the client's goal in seeking care. For example: "When you've thought about this visit, how were you hoping I could help?"

> Check for more diagnostic clues: "How has Shadow's problem affected his daily activities?"

3. Demonstrate empathy

It's important to be open to your client's emotions and respond appropriately. This builds trust and establishes a collaborative relationship in caring for the patient. Some ideas:

> Be aware of changes in the client's body language and vocal tone. She may be resisting something you've suggested, and you'll need to backtrack to reestablish common ground.

> Use brief empathetic comments. For example: "That sounds really upsetting. I can understand why you're so concerned about Shadow."

> Compliment the client on her efforts to address the problem.

4. Invest in the end

This is where you deliver your diagnostic information, educate the client, involve her in the decision about what to do next, and wrap up the visit. Here are a few suggestions:

> Frame your diagnosis in terms of the client's original concerns—for example, explain how arthritis might cause listlessness.

> Explain your rationale for tests and treatments.

> Provide written materials and suggest other information sources.

> Ask, "What questions do you have?"

> Assess the client's satisfaction: "Did you get what you needed today?"

> Reassure the client of ongoing care—let her know you'll keep working with her and Shadow until the problem is resolved.

By developing these habits, you're not just strengthening your client relationship, you're also getting better diagnostic information and, most likely, better client compliance. All of that means better outcomes for your patients—and your practice.

Adapted from "It May Be a Dog's Life But the Relationship With Her Owners Is Also Key to Her Health and Well Being" by Cindy Adams, PhD, and Richard Frankel, PhD, in the January 2007 issue of Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, pages 1-17.