Presenter: Dr Paul Manning of Astonlee Veterinary Hospital And Surgery in Buckinghamshire

After several years in practice I consider my consulting skills to be pretty good, with the majority of my clients receiving a more than satisfactory service. However after hearing last week’s webinar by Dr Manning I now believe there will always be room for improvement.

I have to admit to being one of those vets that doesn’t always charge for a final check. Why? Because I believe I owe a little something to a client that has always been very loyal. Of course it hadn’t occurred to me that the client in question may only come to see me because I don’t always charge. Perhaps if I felt that I offered a consultation of greater value, I would feel less guilty about charging. My re-checks also have a tendency not to turn up and I do make assumptions about my client’s lack of motivation. What I should be questioning though, is whether I could improve my level of communication to ensure that clients continue to come back.

These were all points eloquently made by Dr Manning who, in running his own practice, has seen the benefits of improved consultation skills in one of the most important indicators of a successful business, the bottom line. Not only should turnover increase but complaints should decrease, especially as around 80% of complaints being made to organisations such as the RCVS are based on poor communication.

Dr Manning discussed the “Calgary Cambridge” approach to consultations which is now being taught within vet schools. When asked, only 19% of the webinar attendees were aware of this model, and I fell into the 81% who were unaware – probably indicating my many years post-graduation. The point of the Calgary Cambridge model is to put a set structure in place for every consult we perform. This structure includes initiating the session, gathering information, building the relationship, explanation and planning and finally closing the session. If this structure is followed in every consult then our success at communicating should improve.

One of Dr Manning’s tips during this process is to always observe the golden minute during a consultation. This involves listening for 60 seconds at the start of a consultation. This is more difficult than it sounds as most vets will interrupt within the first 20seconds. Dr Manning believes that the information we gain by listening for that extra 40 seconds will not only make the client feel valued but will also save us time overall.

There were a number of consultation scenarios that Dr Manning discussed during the webinar and from these scenarios he was able to summarise some points that should really help to improve our consultation skills.

Regular training of all staff is key and could be initiated during a practice meeting, for example, where discussions could be centred around how to improve consultation skills. Filming consultations and reflecting on our own performance can be very powerful, if not a little daunting. Asking the opinions of colleagues and seeking feedback from clients is crucial. Continued training and continual reflection of our consulting skills can only positively influence our ability as communicators and give our clients an experience that keeps them coming back.


The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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