I was at a conference recently with two colleagues of mine and we started talking about veterinary education. I am not sure how the topic came up, what we all started discussing the same point almost in unison. The topic was communication and how veterinarians discuss options with pet owners.
All three of us had graduated from different veterinary schools, gone through different internships and residencies –and yet we all agreed that veterinary students everywhere need to re-organize their communication priorities.
What do I mean “communication priorities”—I mean medical/surgical options need to be prioritized above finances. Don’t get me wrong, finances are AN important consideration when discussing any medical therapy, but they should not be the primary one. Information about options- ALL the options available, should be THE most important consideration. Once a veterinarian and pet owner both understand what options are available for the pet, then, and only then should finances-or whatever other constraints –time, emotional, finances, etc.--may be pertinent to that pet owner be discussed.
By prioritizing information and options first and finances second, we can better insure that the pet will get the best care possible AND that everything will be done that the pet owner can afford. If the priorities are stay as they are, clients will continue to feel that optimal care was not recommended or given, veterinarians will feel they need to be accountants, bankers and financial managers first and medical professionals second.
We, the veterinary profession, need to trust pet owners. Trust that they can make the best decision for their family and their pet. This requires accurate and complete information. Veterinarians need to allow the owners to hear ALL of their options and then help them make choices, rather than only communicate those options the veterinarian THINKS the owner’s can afford. Veterinarians need to be medical professionals not financial professionals. Pet owners come to us for medical information and guidance.
Survey after survey over the past 25 years have shown that owners would have done more for their pet if their veterinarian had recommended it. The impetus to change the way we as veterinarians communicate needs to start at the veterinary schools throughout the country, this is where we learned the current communication prioritization.
Empowering the pet owners and informing them of all the options available—as a starting point for discussion –may not be easy, but it is the right thing to do for the pets that have been entrusted into our care.
Dr. Gerald Post