Strong people skills are a must in any industry - including, yes, industries that revolve around animals. You might be a bona fide horse whisperer or a veritable Doctor Dolittle, but if you can’t communicate effectively with your human team members, you’re going to quickly run into problems.
While much ink has been spilled on the value of effective client communication, it’s equally important to think about how team communication can shape clinical outcomes and business performance.
In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at the importance of effective communication skills and what you can do to facilitate better information exchange in your veterinary practice.
Why communication matters
Communication underpins just about every aspect of a veterinary practice. Below are just some of the ways effective communication can add value to a clinic:
- Improve patient outcomes: Communication directly impacts patient outcomes. Smooth handovers and accurate information sharing are crucial for delivering quality care, while ineffective communication can increase the risk of critical incidents and potential patient harm. In a study of professional negligence claims in the veterinary industry, researchers found that 80% of the analyzed cases involved at least one communication problem. Breaking down information silos and improving the flow of communication between veterinarians, nurses, and reception staff, is key for delivering gold-standard care.
- Reduce workplace stress: Effective team communication can be a powerful antidote to many of the stressors that are commonplace in the veterinary industry. Clearly defining responsibilities and expectations helps empower employees to set healthy boundaries and avoid taking on unsustainable workloads. Strengthening communication lines leads to better care and patient outcomes and, by extension, customer satisfaction. Being able to logically convey critical information reduces unnecessary miscommunication and enables the team to work more efficiently.
- Foster team culture: Communication also plays a key role in building an inclusive team culture. Encouraging open dialogue and fostering a culture where people feel understood and supported can go a long way toward increasing team morale, which in turn can help veterinary clinics boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, and deliver better customer service.
How to improve communication in your veterinary practice
Effective communication can help break down information silos and keep your veterinary practice moving towards the same unified goals.
1. Cultivate a culture of open communication
Staff across every level of the practice should feel comfortable communicating directly with anyone in the business - even if it’s a difficult or uncomfortable conversation.
But open communication doesn’t happen by accident. Cultural shifts need to come from the top and leaders must be prepared to set an example by sharing more information with staff (e.g. business updates, organizational changes, future objectives, client feedback, etc.). In addition, practice leaders should actively encourage feedback and be open to implementing viable changes that could add value to the business.
2. Recognize that people communicate differently
Everyone’s different. Cultural, gender, and generational differences highlight the need for thoughtful communication between veterinary staff, even in high-pressure and time-poor environments.
Most people will have innate preferences for certain communication styles, meaning it’s important to consider not only what you’re communicating but how you’re communicating it. Analytical communicators, for example, might prefer to speak in facts and data, whereas personal communicators may place a lot of value in establishing personal connections with their colleagues. Functional communicators might want to hone in on the process and break down directives into step-by-step actions, while intuitive communicators may prefer to focus on the big-picture ideas.
Not every conversation needs to be tailored to the individual, but understanding what makes your people tick and how best to get your messages across will ultimately lead to better communication practice-wide.
3. Digitize your communications
Communication errors aren’t uncommon in the fast-paced world of veterinary medicine. Instructions may be unclear or misheard; inventory used during a high-pressure procedure may not be accurately documented; hurriedly scrawled notes may get lost or filed incorrectly.
The most effective way to plug these gaps in your communication processes is to leverage patient care software like Vet Radar. Mobile by design and accessible on iPad, tablet, and desktop, Vet Radar’s electronic whiteboard allows you to access and share the information you need to make smarter clinical decisions, regardless of where you or your patients are physically located.
By keeping all the important patient information at your fingertips - patient status, treatment progress, clinical notes, medication history, and more - Vet Radar helps minimize the risk of miscommunication throughout the entire clinic.
4. Practice active listening
There’s a difference between hearing someone talk and really tuning into what someone is saying. When you’re speaking with someone, try to quell the thoughts swirling around your head and truly dial into the conversation. Don’t start formulating your response while the other person is speaking. Be present, ask questions, and rephrase instructions to show that you understand the directive and give the speaker the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings.
5. Be mindful of your body language
Communication is so much more than the words that come out of your mouth. Research indicates that just 7% of communication is expressed through your choice of words, while 55% is expressed visually, and 38% is expressed vocally (the tone, pitch, and volume of your voice).
Body language is loud and the vast majority of communication is conveyed through nonverbal cues. That includes things like facial expressions, posture, eye contact, hand gestures, and more. For example, a slouchy posture might indicate that the listener is bored or inexperienced, whereas leaning forward and maintaining eye contact might signal that they are attentive and engaged in the conversation.
When you’re feeling fatigued or dealing with a high-pressure situation, it’s easy to unconsciously give off negative nonverbal cues. Be mindful of how your body language can be interpreted by those around you and be sure to clarify your thoughts, feelings, and intentions to clear up any ambiguous nonverbal (and verbal!) behavior.
Effective communication is an integral part of any successful veterinary practice. Fostering a culture of transparency, being mindful of how your body language and communication style resonate with people, and using technology to support your processes can go a long way toward improving communication in your veterinary workplace.
Is it time to put an end to clinical communication gaps in your practice? Schedule a free Vet Radar demo and find out how Vet Radar can help you share information more effectively, seamlessly access clinical data, and minimize the risk of miscommunication.