An interesting One Health idea is that veterinarians could benefit by borrowing motivational interviewing techniques from human doctors. General physicians often work with clients to reduce risky behaviors, by promoting smoking cessation, a reduction in alcohol consumption, and weight loss. Vets don’t have patients that smoke or drink, but we do have patients that need to lose weight, or increase their physical exercise, or become more mentally stimulated. However, vets have to work with and through pet owners in order to benefit their patients, unlike physicians who work directly with their patients. So you can see start to see how important it is to develop a rapport and good communication skills so that conversations with clients turn into effective and lasting health benefits for animal patients.
During a dinner talk led by a third-year medical student at the University of Massachusetts, I was reminded again of the importance of open-ended questions, a concept promoted in our clinical skills course and emphasized here as the starting point for motivational interviewing. Open-ended questions allow the client to give detailed information about what they perceive as the primary health problem of their pet, and allow the vet to practice reflective listening to build rapport. Motivational interviewing springboards off the open-ended questions by emphasizing a client-based motivation for the changes that need to occur. In other words, it’s discussing what might motivate the particular client to change, and encouraging that rather than listing several potentially motivating reasons to a silent client. For example, instead of explaining how obesity damages joints, predisposes to diabetes, and shortens lifespan, if a client mentions that her pug never wants to play, as the veterinarian you could use the idea of increased energy to motivate the client to make the required dietary and exercise changes. It takes a little twist of thought and some role-playing practice to get the hang of it, but I can see motivational interviewing as being a key player in effective client communication.