Posts Tagged ‘Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association’

Does Your Veterinarian Hear Your Concerns?

July 18, 2011

Until a few years ago it was darned near impossible to find much in the way of useful research about communication between veterinarians and their clients.  Nowadays, several wonderful studies are surfacing.  It’s about time I say, and the results have been fascinating! The newest communication study appears in the June 15, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and is titled, “Analysis of solicitation of client concerns in companion animal practice.”

The purpose of this study was to determine what percentage of veterinarians evaluated effectively solicited their clients’ concerns at the beginning of the office visit.  When veterinarians did solicit concerns, the client’s responses were referred to as their “opening statement”.  What we know from research pertaining to human physicians is that only 23% to 28% of patients are allowed to complete their opening statements.  On average, they are interrupted by their physicians within 12 to 23 seconds. Research has also documented that physicians often mistakenly assume that the first or only concern expressed by their patient is the main concern or only concern.

In addition to learning how many veterinarians effectively solicit client concerns, this study also determined if there is a difference in the way clients respond to open-ended versus closed-ended solicitations.  Open-ended questions such as “What brings you in today?” cannot readily be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”.  Rather, they require more expansive, thoughtful responses.  Closed-ended questions such as, “Has Peanut been vomiting?” can readily be answered by “yes” or “no” and may entice a client to focus on what they perceive the veterinarian thinks is important rather than what they are truly concerned about.

Here’s what this study’s researchers learned by reviewing 334 videotaped veterinarian-client office visits:

– Solicitations for client concerns were made in only 37% of the office visits.
– Of the office visits that included solicitations, 76% of the queries were open-ended and 24% were closed-ended.
– In response to open-ended solicitations 76% of clients expressed one or more concerns.  In response to closed-ended solicitations, 40% of clients expressed one or more concerns.
– Clients spoke more than twice as long in response to an open-ended solicitation compared to a closed-ended solicitation.
– Clients’ opening statements in response to the solicitation were interrupted by the veterinarian 55% of the time, on average after only 11 seconds!
– Following an interruption, clients returned to and completed their response only 28% of the time.
– Appointments in which the veterinarian did not solicit client concerns at the beginning the office visit were significantly more likely to have concerns raised at the end of the office visit.
– Open-ended solicitations were more likely to occur during “well pet visits” than visits initiated because of a medical issue.

Are you surprised by these results?  I’m a bit surprised by the numbers and, admittedly, as a veterinarian, I’m feeling a bit of professional embarrassment. This study underscores the fact that veterinarians could be doing a much better job soliciting and listening to their clients’ concerns.  By learning from studies such as these, there is so much potential for greater success, not only in terms of doing a better job for our patients (gaining an accurate assessment of all concerns is certainly in the best interest of the patient), but also in terms of our clients.  Actively listening to their concerns without interruption conveys empathy and what person worried about their best buddy’s health couldn’t use a good dose of that?

As a consumer of veterinary medicine, what is the take home message for you?  I hope this data will prompt you to be persistent in expressing all of your concerns to your veterinarian at the beginning of the office visit.  And, if interrupted, do your best to return to your original train of thought!

What is the take-home message for veterinarians?  It is clear that we could and should be doing a much better job consistently asking open-ended questions at the beginning of office visits and then actively listening, without interruption to hear what our clients have to say.  Perhaps before entering the exam room we might remind ourselves of the saying I’ve always loved, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”


Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations VIII: Written Cost Estimates

January 8, 2011

This is the eighth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through seven can be found at

You’ve just taken your best buddy to see your veterinarian because he’s been vomiting for three days and is now beginning to refuse his food. Your vet performs a thorough physical examination with all normal findings, so she recommends blood tests along with X-rays of your dog’s belly.  If these tests don’t provide a diagnosis, she tells you that the next recommended step would be abdominal ultrasound.  Of course you want to proceed with this testing because your dog is a beloved family member and you want him to get better, but do you know how much the recommended diagnostics will cost?  Will you be charged $300, $800,  $1,300? Unless your dog is a “repeat offender” how in the world could you possibly know? Three hundred dollars might be completely within your budget; whereas $1,300 might mean coming up short on your mortgage payment.

Whether you are independently wealthy, barely making ends meet, or somewhere in between, know that it is perfectly reasonable to request a written cost estimate from your veterinarian before services are provided.  Why must you be responsible for asking- shouldn’t your vet automatically offer forth a written cost estimate?  Much to my chagrin, I must tell you that only the minority of vets voluntarily provide written estimates. This was documented by veterinarian/researcher, Dr. Jason Coe and his colleagues. Their research appeared in 2009 within the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  The article titled, “Prevalence and Nature of Cost Discussions During Clinical Appointments in Companion Animal Practice” documented the following:

• Actual cost is addressed in only 29% of veterinary appointments.
• When cost is discussed, 33% of the time it is the client and not the veterinarian who initiates the discussion.
• Talk related to cost information constitutes a mere 4.3% of the total dialogue time.
• Written cost estimates are discussed during 14% of appointments.
• Written cost estimates are actually prepared and delivered to the client in only 8% of appointments.

Dr. Coe’s research certainly supports the notion that veterinarians are squeamish when it comes to discussing fees for their service.  I must admit it is certainly one of the least favorite parts of my job.  Nonetheless, I consistently provide written cost estimates, particularly if I’ve recommended something other than a single treatment or test, in order to avoid communication snafus and clients who are disgruntled when it comes time to pay their bill. 

Why is a written estimate preferable to a verbal estimate? Written estimates require time and focus. Guaranteed such estimates are far more likely to be accurate than those prepared by the vet using mental math while “on the fly”.  Additionally written estimates avoid uncomfortable conversations such as, “You told me it would be $100, not $300……..” and, “But you never told me you were going to do that……”.   So, please don’t encourage your vet to simply give you a “ballpark estimate” or an estimate “off the top of his or her head.”   I avoid providing such guesstimates at all costs (no pun intended).  Try as I might, I invariably lowball such estimates because of my innate desire to make the cost for my client as reasonable as possible.  And when this happens I end up cutting corners (not a good thing for the patient) and/or having to make uncomfortable phone calls advising clients of added expenses (and I definitely get called into the principal’s office).

It is completely reasonable to receive a written cost estimate before services are provided, but keep in mind, you may need to be the one who initiates this process!  With written estimates everybody wins- communication is so much clearer and there are no surprises when it comes time to collect fees.  Additionally, a written cost estimate provides an itemization for you of everything that is planned for your pooch. Have you received estimates from your veterinarian?  If so have they been delivered verbally or in writing?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acids): a Proven Treatment for Canine Arthritis

January 30, 2010

 I had the good fortune of receiving my veterinary school training at Cornell University.  Part of what made this education so fabulous was that the senior faculty spent a great deal of “face time” with their students.  I have fond memories of a seasoned clinician patiently holding a Dachshund for me while teaching this novice how to collect a blood sample from the jugular vein.  Another taught this city slicker how to collect a milk sample for mastitis testing from the teat of a cow.   A major “take home point” my classmates and I received from these icons in veterinary medicine was, “First, do no harm.”  In other words, before subjecting our patients to diagnostic testing or treatment, we should strive to be as confident as possible that the potential for benefit was far greater than the potential for harm.  “First do no harm” has always been my mantra and is the main reason I try to rely on “evidence based medicine” (facts substantiated by research) rather than anecdotal information to support what I do. 

Unfortunately, there is a paucity of evidence based medicine pertaining to the use of many commonly used supplements, nutraceuticals, and herbs for dogs and cats.  This is the reason a big smile appeared on my face when I opened a recent edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  It contained two studies on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) for the treatment of osteoarthritis (also known as arthritis or degenerative joint disease) in dogs.  The study designs were excellent in that many dogs were included, there was a control group (some dogs received a placebo rather than the fatty acids), and the observers were “blinded”- neither the veterinarians nor the dogs’ families knew if the dogs were receiving the fatty acids or the placebo.  

Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acids)Here’s what the studies showed.  Compared to the placebo group, the dogs receiving omega-3 fatty acids had a significantly improved ability to rise from a resting position and play by six weeks after beginning supplementation, and improved ability to walk by 12 weeks.  Additionally, compared to the control group, dogs receiving the fish oil had improved weight bearing on the affected limbs as assessed by force-plate analysis (an extremely humane testing method).  No significant adverse side effects from the fish oil supplementation were reported. 

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time with dogs (especially large dogs), guaranteed you’ve known at least a few with arthritis.  It is estimated to affect up to twenty percent of dogs over one year of age. Dogs with arthritis resemble people with arthritis- they are often stiff and slow to rise when they first get up in the morning, as well as after vigorous exercise.  There are many ways to treat this common canine malady including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (the equivalent of ibuprofen for humans), acupuncture, rehabilitation therapy, and supplements that increase the production of normal joint fluid.  The effectiveness of all of these modalities, including fish oil, will vary from individual to individual.  The beauty of fish oil is that, likely the only potential significant risk is for you- your dog may develop fish breath! 

I love the fact that veterinarians now have evidence based support for recommending fish oil as a treatment for their canine patients with arthritis, and in doing so, they can abide by the mantra of, “First do no harm.”  If you suspect your dog has arthritis (if you have a large breed dog over eight years of age, chances are that you do), talk with your veterinarian about the pros and cons of all the treatment options.  And the next time you are dining on fish, don’t be surprised if your dog’s nose appears right beside your dinner plate.  Chances are, your dog clearly recognizes the benefits of fish oil supplementation!  Now, pass the salmon please. 

Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

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