Communication: A finely honed skill

Communication: A finely honed skill

Ask open-ended questions to learn more from clients.
Mar 01, 2010

One myth of good communication in veterinary practice is that eliciting social and lifestyle statements from clients—such as inquiring about a pet's role in the family or the potential impact of caring for the pet on lifestyle and life commitments—is just chitchat. Not true, says Cindy Adams, MSW, PhD. "Friendly talk is professional communication," she says. "The evidence is so strong we can't refute it anymore. Doctors must use open-ended questions to elicit information about the pet's history, build relationships, and gather data about more than just biomedical functions."

Not sure where to start? Try these tips for more effective communication with all of your clients, no matter the reason for the visit:

> Recruit a friend. Ask a colleague to evaluate a few of your appointments, measuring how much you talk versus how much the client speaks. "You should talk only 50 percent of the time," Adams says. "That means you need to listen the other 50 percent." The JAVMA study found that doctors dominated their client conversations by talking 62 percent of the time.

> Ask clarifying questions. After you share your diagnosis and treatment plan with a client, stop and say, "I've shared a lot of information. What questions does this raise for you?" Then make sure to listen before you respond.

> Use inclusionary statements. These are comments and queries such as, "Let's put our heads together and figure this out." "What do you think is happening?" and "What's your top concern?"

"Failing to communicate well makes clients walk away frustrated and confused," Adams says. "This means they often postpone decision-making because they don't have the information they need, which affects patient health, client satisfaction, and your bottom line."