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Veterinary communication has evolved in the context of traditional veterinary tasks, such as diagnosing and treating sick animals, and this may encourage a directive communication style, in which the veterinarian acts as an expert, directing the client in what to do and how to do it. This type of communication style has been shown to evoke resistance to change in clients who are experiencing psychological ambivalence, a well-known aspect of farmers' herd health decisions. Veterinary herd health management (VHHM) constitutes an increasing proportion of the work of cattle veterinarians and often focuses on behavior change. The present study aimed to characterize communication styles of Swedish dairy cattle veterinarians involved in VHHM in relation to their skills in facilitating behavior change. A secondary aim was to investigate whether these skills differed among veterinarians depending on their experience in the veterinary profession or in VHHM. Audio-recorded role-play conversations (n = 123; reflecting VHHM telephone consultations) with 42 veterinarians involved in VHHM in Swedish dairy herds and audio-recorded on-farm consultations (n = 86) with 18 of those veterinarians were coded using a system developed to evaluate motivational interviewing (MI) skills. Motivational interviewing is a communication methodology aimed at facilitating clients' internal motivation to change. The MI Treatment Integrity (MITI) code identifies frequency counts of 10 verbal behaviors, and assesses 4 global variables on a Likert scale, based on 20 min of conversation. It also suggests 6 summary measurements of MI competency based on these 14 original variables. Of the 42 veterinarians, 39 also responded to a web questionnaire about their age, continuing education, and experience in the profession, in dairy herds and in VHHM. We analyzed associations between the 6 summary MITI variables from the role-play conversations and characteristics of the 39 veterinarians using logistic and linear multivariable regression models. Veterinarians in the role-play and on-farm conversations relied predominantly on giving information, questions, and persuasion in their consultation approaches. They generally did not explore the client's expectations or wishes regarding the agenda for the consultation, or acknowledge the client's right to make decisions about actions. Veterinarians gave advice without exploring the client's need for the advice or how the information was perceived. We found a significant reduction in so-called relational scores (Empathy plus Partnership) and an increase in MI-nonadherent behaviors (Persuasion plus Confront) as years of veterinary experience increased. Results showed that there is room for improvement in the communication style of veterinarians involved in VHHM. Wider literature suggests that training veterinarians in a client-centered communication methodology such as MI may increase the demand for and success of VHHM.
- veterinary herd health management
- veterinarian-client communication