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- August 28th, 2020 - Ask the Vet

By Daniel H. Grove, DVM

Ask the Vet

Communication is an essential component to any relationship. Whether it be between two people, countries, companies — anything. If you want any relationship to work between two or more parties, communication is key. The relationship between equine veterinarian and client is no different.

Equine medicine is a bit different from many other medical and patient/client relationship. Even when you compare it to small animal medicine, to me, it is a more personal relationship. In small animal medicine you usually speak with office staff to setup an appointment or get a refill. A veterinary technician often times is the first to see your animal and answer some of your questions. You get to see and speak to the veterinarian (in non-COVID times) during the exam. Most procedures are done in the back, and then you may see your veterinarian just prior to leaving.

Compare that to ambulatory equine practice. I make my own appointments. I am there with the client for the entire visit. I write my own bills, dispense medication myself and go over all the follow up instructions. All of this leads to more time with a client and more time to develop a working relationship.

This closer relationship is a double-edged sword. It is great that we get to know our clients better, and I think tend to make more friends with them. It helps us to get to know what a client likes and dislikes, types of treatments they tend to prefer and to better cater to their veterinary needs. The flip side of it is that things tend to get more personal. With the friendly relationship, lines tend to get blurred — and here is where I think communication is essential.

Let’s go through some examples on how communication can really improve the experience between veterinarian and client.

Example 1

It is 6 a.m., and you notice your horse is not quite right. It does not want to eat. You decide to give some medication and wait to see how the horse does. It seems OK and wants to eat afterwhile, but now it is 10 p.m. and the horse is uncomfortable. You decide it is time to call the veterinarian.

Discussion: As equine veterinarians and people, we always want to help. In this situation, you might consider that you may want to discuss the problem with your veterinarian when you first notice it. They likely can give you some tips on things you can do to help your horse, even if you do not want them to come out right away. Also, they can communicate to you that they may be in your area at a certain time of day in case you do need them.

Example 2

A client consistently wants to save money where they can. When given options on a course of treatment, they usually want to be conservative. The client calls the veterinarian and gives some advice on how treat or deal with the situation and to call if you need further assistance. The client does not make it known that they really want to have the horse seen sooner rather than later and gets angry with the veterinarian for not seeing the animal right away.

Discussion: Unfortunately, veterinarians are human and make misjudgments. We often times think we know how a client wants to proceed, but we are not mindreaders. We are often times good at dealing with the animals and sometimes our interpersonal skills are not the best. We need to communicate with you to make sure you are getting what you want, and also you need to communicate with us when you are not getting what you want.

These are just two examples. I could fill the Horsetrader pages with example after example of how communication is key to a successful veterinary-client relationship. I am by no means a psychologist, but  do see how if we communicate better it will lead to a better experience for everyone. I will always remember what a person in practice management once said and this is paraphrasing, but do not think the worst in others. As a society today, I see many people always looking to the negatives of a situation. If we think positively about people’s intentions it can really shape our thinking of them. This goes for you and your veterinarian. If you realize they really are there to help and want to, even if they are worn out and tired, it may help you to communicate your needs better to them.

Hopefully this gives you a little insight as to how communication can help with your veterinarian-patient relationship.


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