‘Frank’ Workshops for Veterinarians Enhance Communication, Benefit Pet Healthcare

In today’s veterinary clinics, it isn’t a secret that good communication between clients and veterinarians and staff is critical to the success of a practice and the health of pets. But few courses in veterinary communication are available, particularly courses that are hands-on and give veterinarians the skills to negotiate agendas, arrive at a mutual plan and build a relationship with clients that helps to ensure they’ll do their part in taking care of health needs at home.

Continuing education courses offered through Colorado State University, based on the FRANK Veterinarian-Client Communication Initiative, encourage veterinarians to be frank with their clients while giving them effective research-based communication skills tailored to the veterinary field.

"Communication is key to creating a strong veterinarian-client-patient relationship," said Dr. Jane R. Shaw, director of Colorado State University’s Argus Institute, which hosts the workshops. Shaw, who is an academic leader in the field of veterinary communication, will be teaching FRANK: An Interactive Veterinarian-Client Communication Workshop, sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health.  

Pfizer funded and participated in the development of the FRANK program along with Dr. Shaw and Dr. Suzanne Kurtz, clinical professor and director of clinical communications at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to financial support of the workshops, Pfizer veterinarians who are trained communication coaches serve as facilitators for the workshop at no cost to CSU.   

FRANK trainings for veterinarians help sharpen interpersonal skills, which ultimately improve pet healthcare and client satisfaction with veterinary visits. FRANK workshops are scheduled on June 10-11 and August 5-6 at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The communication skills taught in the FRANK workshop are based on more than 40 years of medical and 10 years of veterinary communication research. Taught in small groups, the 12-hour workshop features one instructor per five veterinarians and creates an opportunity to practice through simulated client interactions. Participants work together and identify effective approaches to client communication. The group watches the interaction through two-way windows into exam rooms and provides input.  The session is recorded to allow the participant to review the veterinarian-client interaction for further learning.

FRANK workshops provide formal training in medical communication.

The program teaches veterinarians:

– To meet the needs of today’s clients;

– Build a collaborative relationship with your clients;

– To be frank about a pet’s health with the client when it’s not easy;

– Encourage pet owners to be more involved in veterinary visits;

– Take a shared approach to decision-making;

– To set expectations, identify next steps and discuss limitations in care.

"The typical veterinary-client communication pattern is paternalistic – with the veterinarian in charge," Shaw said. "This pattern is not always the most effective strategy for building and maintaining a client base. Veterinarians who communicate in a paternalistic fashion talk 80 to 90 percent of the time during a veterinary visit. FRANK is based on giving veterinarians insights into involving clients in sharing in decisions through effective communication, which research shows is a win-win approach for pets, veterinarians and pet owners. It leads to improved home care for the pet, a stronger veterinarian-client relationship, which promotes client retention and referrals, and clients who are satisfied with their pet’s veterinary care."

When the communication between veterinarians and clients is optimal, the animal, veterinarian and client all greatly benefit, Shaw said.  

Dr. Leonard Lario is a veterinarian who recently completed the FRANK course.

"My ah-ha moment was picking up on body language cues from clients and using the learned communication skills to resolve some of the perceived problems," Lario said. "It was rewarding to witness the change in client body language and communication when I recognized a non-verbal concern and adapted my style of communication to resolve the problem."

Classes are capped at 35 participants to provide intensive, hands-on training.

More information about FRANK is available at www.colovma.com.