4 Communication Tips

Ben Espy, DVM, Dipl. ACT, offers his advice on communicating with your veterinarian:

#1 Keep your own records Whether you are trying to schedule routine work or an emergency visit, your veterinarian relies on you to be all of their senses when talking to you on the phone. Although most veterinarians have evolved to using computers, e-mail, and PDA devices, no amount of high-tech electronics can take the place of notes on each animal. Many clients dealing with extremely valuable horses in Central Kentucky still rely on handwritten notes organized in a notebook.

Although your veterinarian will have a master list of medical procedures performed on each horse, it is wise to maintain your own records as well. This is especially true for night calls when your veterinarian will not have access to his computer and office staff.

Many large barns have multiple horses, multiple owners, and fractional ownerships. Transfer of ownership and medical records becomes very confusing. This is an inherent problem in our industry and can be called continuity of care. Although a horse might change ownership or location, it still has to be maintained by the farrier, it has to be current on vaccinations, negative EIA (Coggins test, for equine infectious anemia) status, deworming, and dental care. A useful technique is to use a dry erase board in the central aisleway of the barn where you can put, for example, the next scheduled foot trim, vaccination, or dental work. Each horse (and owner) is put on a separate line. Each time the veterinarian comes to your barn, the manager can look at the board and see if anything is due or close to being due.

#2 Learn routine first aid Pay for an appointment with your veterinarian during which they can teach you how to take the horse's temperature, check gum color, and assess heart rate or gut sounds. Learn how to bandage. Learn how to administer pills and eye ointments. If you're comfortable, learn how to give injections. Learn how to twitch a horse. Learn what you need in a first aid kit. Paying for an hour or two of professional services is much more economical than paying a veterinarian to come to your barn multiple times to teach you how to perform routine animal husbandry. Take notes and don't be afraid to ask questions.

#3 Assess the horse Always observe the horse from a distance before you move closer. If possible, find a friend or another horse owner who can collaborate with you to decide if the horse is distressed or if he can be moved to a more suitable location for a better evaluation. If you have an emotional involvement with an animal, it is often very difficult seeing him in pain or distress. This is why paramedics in ambulances often do a better job of assessing a patient in a violent car accident than a famous and talented physician that might be related to the victim. Be smart. Be impartial. Be calm. Talk slowly and clearly about what you need from your veterinarian.

#4 Be cautious about how you speak to your veterinarian When you are calling a veterinarian to schedule routine work, it is easy to speak in tones and use words that are nonthreatening. In times of duress it is very common to use words that tend to create resistance and might sometimes lead to the veterinarian becoming defensive rather than helpful. When you talk to your veterinarian, they are typically not sitting there, waiting, hoping you'll call with an emergency to handle. They, just like you, might be asleep, at dinner with their spouse, at a birthday party, at a daughter's soccer game … just living, like everybody else. Try to avoid phrases such as:

"You need to … "

"You have to … "

"You must … "

Try to ask when a veterinarian can look at your animal. Try not to tell a veterinarian how to conduct their practice. After hearing one of these loaded phrases, anybody is likely to defend themselves rather than respond in a comforting and com-pliant way.  Equine veterinarians, as well as horse owners, work seven days most weeks, most have families, and nobody around horses gets near enough sleep. Avoiding catch phrases that might get misunderstood will go a long way to avoid hurt feelings.

About the Author

Benjamin Espy, DVM, Dipl. ACT

Benjamin Espy, DVM, Dipl. ACT (boarded in equine reproduction), has practiced veterinary medicine in Texas and Kentucky. He has been licensed to practice acupuncture for nine years and is on numerous AAEP committees and task forces. Espy serves on the alternative therapy committee for the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, and he's an animal treatment consultant for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

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