It May Be a Dog's Life But the Relationship with Her Owners Is Also Key to Her Health and Well Being: Communication in Veterinary Medicine

Cindy L. Adams, Richard M. Frankel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

35 Scopus citations


We have reviewed more than four decades of research and evidence in human medicine that has consistently demonstrated that communication and relationship building impact the quality and outcomes of care. There is emerging evidence in veterinary medicine that many of the same challenges exist in providing clinical care for pets, who cannot speak for themselves, and their owners, who can and do. It seems that improved communication with pet owners is associated with fewer complaints, higher levels of satisfaction, and reductions in medication and other types of errors. Growing recognition of the benefits of communication skills training has led veterinary medical educators to develop explicit curricula based on evidence of best practices. In doing so they have acknowledged that these skills belong in the formal curriculum and need to be taught just as doing accurate diagnosis and treatment are. As a result, we can expect that the next generations of veterinarians will possess outstanding skills in communicating with their clients. What can veterinarians do to improve their communication skills in practice? Several options currently exist:Attend a national meeting in which workshops on communication skills are offered.Attend an intensive training course on communication skills offered by regional or national organizations. (In human medicine the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare and the European Association for Communication in Healthcare offer 1-, 2.5-, and 5-day intensive courses on improving communication skills. Veterinarians have been active in both organizations.)Contact the Institute for Healthcare Communication and learn about continuing education opportunities on communication.Assess your own communication skills using the Four Habits or an equivalent approach. This might include having a colleague observe you for a clinic session and provide feedback on your communication skills. Self-assessment is another possibility.Use letters of complaint and also those that complement the practice to work on ways to improve communication and relationships with clients and within the health care team.Partner with one or more colleagues to discuss challenging cases and innovative approaches to communicating more effectively. Improved communication skills are of demonstrated benefit to clients, but the evidence is that practitioners benefit also. An emphasis on the bottom line may leave veterinarians feeling stressed and demoralized. Investing in habits of practice that result in improved relationships has the added benefit of reminding us of why we went into our chosen fields in the first place and restoring the sense of joy in serving others and alleviating suffering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalVeterinary Clinics of North America - Small Animal Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Small Animals

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