Â??frank’ Workshops Enhance Veterinarian Communication, Improve Pet Healthcare

Let’s be frank: Poor communication between veterinarians and their clients can cause stress to pet owners, veterinarians and the pets. To address the issue, FRANK, a new communication training program for veterinarians, helps sharpen interpersonal skills, which ultimately improves animal health care and pet owner satisfaction.

Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association is hosting two FRANK workshops this year, and Dr. Jane Shaw, director of the college’s Argus Institute, will be teaching FRANK across the nation.

The workshops at Colorado State are slated for May 7 and 8 and Oct. 1 and 2 at the university’s James L. Voss Teaching Hospital at the Veterinary Medical Center.

Sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, "FRANK: An Interactive Veterinarian-Client Communication Workshop" is offered to veterinarians across the United States. It provides formal training in medical communication – a critical clinical skill often overlooked in veterinary school programs. The program teaches veterinarians to be frank when it’s not easy, giving them communication skills to deal with a variety of situations. FRANK helps veterinarians gather a more complete pet history, build collaboration with clients, encourage pet owners to be more involved in veterinary visits and clearly communicate with the pet owner about expectations, next steps and limitations in care.

FRANK sets the typical veterinary-client communication pattern on its ear. Traditionally, veterinarians talk 70 percent of the time during a patient visit. FRANK is based on a principle that the pet owner should share in the communication and decision-making process about their pet.

"When clients know they are heard during a veterinary visit, the outcome is optimal for the animal, veterinarian and client," said Shaw, a veterinary communication pioneer known internationally for her work in the field. "The veterinarian obtains a complete picture of the pet’s clinical signs and health. The client provides input, increasing the likelihood that they will carry out the plan for care at home, benefiting the pet’s health and ensuring that the client feels like his values, expectations and concerns were heard and considered. Finally, the veterinarian ultimately develops a strong partnership and mutual treatment plan with the client, enhancing the veterinarian’s job satisfaction."

Taught in small groups, the 12-hour workshops feature one instructor per five veterinarians and simulated clients portrayed by real-world actors who act out scenarios based on real-life cases so veterinarians can practice communication skills with the instructor in the room.

Participants also work together and identify effective approaches to client communication. The group watches the interaction between a veterinarian who is participating in the workshop and actors through two-way windows into exam rooms. The group later provides suggestions about the veterinarian-client interaction. The sessions are videotaped for the participant’s later review.  

Skills taught in the workshops are based on more than 40 years of medical communication research.

"A large part of our success in practice and life is dependent on our communication skills," said Dr. Dan Parkinson, a veterinarian from the Durango area who participated in a FRANK workshop. "Clients and staff expect veterinarians to assume leadership roles. Effective leaders must be good communicators. This course, unlike any other, helps you refine your communication skills and practice them in a challenging but supportive, interactive simulation. Professional actors take you out of the typical continuing education course setting and quickly engage you in ‘real-life’ exam room scenarios. This is real time learning – valuable, practical and likely to have a big impact on you and your practice."

Another FRANK alumnus, Dr. Mike Wedam, said that the workshop improved his interview skills.

"The FRANK workshop teaches you to involve the client in the entire veterinary visit process," Wedam said. "It encourages you to review with the client what you have learned from your conversation with him. This helps to enhance awareness of all the concerns of the patient and client. This carries through into the implementation of a plan to deal with the patient’s illness. This client involvement is critical to the success of a treatment plan."

Classes are limited to 25-30 participants to provide intensive, hands-on training.

In 2008, FRANK workshops are scheduled at Colorado State University, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and additional sites to be announced.

More information about FRANK workshops at Colorado State are available at the university’s Department of Clinical Sciences website at http://www.cvmbs.colostate.edu/clinsci/ce/frank%20workshop.html.