Study: What you say and what the client hears aren’t necessarily the same

A recent study found that most dog and cat owners don’t know what actually happens during their pet’s physical exam, or the importance of the veterinary services performed.

Partners for Healthy Pets (PHP) compiled more than five years of data from staff and client surveys. PHP determined that pet owners don’t always hear what veterinary healthcare team members think they communicate to them.

The PHP study gathered the data from practices that used The Opportunity, PHP’s exclusive online survey tool. The tool was designed to help veterinary practices identify communication gaps between their healthcare teams and clients during a yearly exam.

Here’s how it works: Practices have their healthcare teams take the anonymous online survey, then send survey invitations to clients whose pets had just received a preventive healthcare physical exam. Then, practice managers and veterinarians view the survey results to identify trends specific to their practices. By surveying both staff and clients, a practice can evaluate the consistency of the team’s communication and compare that to what the clients are hearing or understanding. The PHP study compiled responses from 1,193 staff surveys and 1,360 pet owner surveys from April 2012–June 2017.

The study revealed statistically significant differences in a number of areas.

For example, pain assessment. Significantly fewer clients were aware that pain assessment is an important component of preventive healthcare. In fact, fewer than half of dog owners and less than a third of cat owners believed that a pain assessment was performed at their pet’s most recent exam.

That result contrasted sharply with staff responses, which indicated that most preventive healthcare visits included some kind of pain assessment.

This reflects a clear-cut disparity between what staff and clients believe transpires in a healthcare exam.

Other veterinary services that revealed communication gaps include general physical exams, weight and nutritional assessments, internal parasite testing, broad-spectrum parasite control, heartworm testing, behavioral assessments, and vaccinations.

“There is confusion on the part of clients about which services are actually performed during an exam for their pets and why they are important,” said Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP (C/F) Emeritus, chief executive officer of AAHA, who announced the study findings during the VMX conference AAHA session, “Explore, connect, and grow with AAHA” in Orlando, Florida, on February 5.

“The data confirms practices are missing a great opportunity to communicate and educate pet owners on the importance of those elements necessary for optimum preventive healthcare,” said Cavanaugh.

“Practices that use The Opportunity [tool] to reveal their unique communication gaps have taken the first step to provide better and more valued healthcare for clients,” said David Granstrom, DVM, PhD, DACVM (parasitology), co-chair of PHP and assistant executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “The second step is to develop good communication skills by the staff. It really is the fix for ensuring that a client has full appreciation and understanding of the components of a preventive healthcare exam and their importance.”

Free communication training tools for staff are available from PHP. They include videos and scripts that show how a few simple words in the exam room or during a client conversation can make a big difference in acceptance of a veterinarian’s recommendations and compliance.

The results of The Opportunity study were published as an AAHA-AVMA white paper titled, “The Opportunity: Pet owners don’t always hear what we think we tell them (and how to fix that)” and is a special feature in the February issue of AAHA’s Trends magazine. Or read the paper online

Photo credit: © iStock/Daisy-Daisy

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