Could your consultation skills do with some improvement?

01 May 2013, at 12:00am

CHRISTINE MAGRATH and GEOFF LITTLE of the VDS communications training team, introduce their programme at VetsNorth to help delegates improve the way they conduct their consultations

AT last year’s VetsNorth, Christine Magrath and Geoff Little from the VDS Communications Training Team (CTT) offered veterinary surgeons the opportunity, for £30, to receive objective, constructive feedback on their consultation skills.

This is on offer again this year at VetsNorth 2013 on the Friday (28th June) on a first-come, first-served basis.

Because this is a very personal, individual experience, there can only be 12 slots available, so please book early, to avoid disappointment.

During an initial short briefing, the format of the session will be explained to each delegate; they will then be provided with relevant information regarding the case, after which they will be asked to invite the client into the simulated consultingroom.

After the consultation, there will be constructive feedback, initially from the simulated client and then from the facilitator.

If there are aspects of the delegate’s communication style on which they want particular feedback, this can be built into the consultation.

What tips did the volunteers leave with last year? Most individuals, given 10 minutes to conduct a consultation, felt the need to take control from the beginning and this in turn usually resulted in them talking more than they listened.

Unless clients’ ideas concerns and expectations (ICE in communications training parlance) are discerned and addressed early in the consultation, the process inevitably takes longer and there will not be a satisfactory outcome as the client feels short-changed.

On the day, all volunteers learned to say less and listen more. Most were observant and picked up on any client unease, but some had difficulty in knowing how to address the situation or, if they did, how to convey that to the client.

Ploughing on regardless

Some, however, ploughed on regardless, sticking to their particular agenda and proffering various alternative solutions to the problem in hand, even though at that point in the proceedings the client’s eyes were firmly fixed on the ground.

The CTT conducts many events: the recent graduate reunions for all the UK vet schools and in Dublin; “handling difficult situations” seminars; “the team approach”, as well as in-practice bespoke training and they commonly find that vets are reluctant to “hand the consultation over to the client”, by asking them how they feel about certain matters, courses of action, etc. They feel more comfortable remaining “in the driving seat”.

This was also evident at VetsNorth. But, put yourself in the client’s position: wouldn’t you much prefer to have an empathetic doctor who engaged you in the process and elicited your ideas concerns and expectations? At the end of the day it is all about shared decision-making, concordance and compliance as opposed to being dictatorial.

In addition to receiving valuable feedback and tips, attendees were able to try out their newly acquired skills there and then, in a safe environment, observing the client’s responses and discovering that sometimes subtle changes to how we consult can make really significant differences for all those involved, resulting in happier clients and healthier pets.

All attendees found the experience illuminating and very valuable and went away with additional skills to take back to their own consulting rooms which they and their practices could benefit from.

If you would like to put your name on one of the slots at this year’s event, please complete the relevant section on the registration form (on facing page or on