Why Words Matter: Vet and Pet Owner Communication


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The AVMA’s Language of Veterinary Care Initiative reveals the power of effective communication between veterinary professionals and pet owners.  

Changing how veterinary professionals talk about veterinary care can change owners’ perceptions about the value and importance of regular veterinary care and encourage them to prioritize wellness visits. That’s one of the findings of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s recent Language of Veterinary Care Initiative.

“By using specific words and phrases, we can build stronger and more trusting client relationships, increase compliance, and maximize patient outcomes,” the AVMA said. “The more our clients trust us, the more receptive they are to our recommendations, and the more likely their pets will get needed care.”

The AVMA partnered with maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm, to help practices build better relationships with pet owners. “By focusing on professional experience, the relationship, and individualized care, we can address pet owners’ concerns while promoting the importance of regular veterinary care,” the AVMA said.

The study explored several key questions: Why go to the veterinarian, when to go to the veterinarian, what you get from the veterinarian, and how to pay for the care and services provided by the veterinarian.

Key takeaways from the research included:

  1. Clients want customized care: “Clients understand that a strong and trusting relationship with their veterinarian enables the whole team to provide better care and more customized recommendations in every area of their pet’s life.”
  2. Emotions matter: “An emotional appeal is the most effective way to talk with pet owners about veterinary care. This is true no matter the specific topic: Why go to the veterinarian; when to go; what you get; and how to pay for services.”
  3. Be upfront about cost: “Owners appreciate when their veterinarian demonstrates understanding about the cost of care and even voices a desire to help make veterinary care more affordable.”

Pet owner, golden retrievor, and veterinary nurse in exam room.

Key factors

Emotions play a part in building the relationship between the veterinarian and the pet owner. From the Language That Works e-book on the AVMA website, the best way into a conversation about why to see a veterinarian is to focus on pet owners’ relationships with their pets. Owners know intuitively that preventive care is what’s best for their pets’ long-term health. Focusing on veterinary care as a responsibility isn’t effective because the reminder feels chastising. Instead, clients prefer to focus on the relationship they have with their pets and what they can do that supports that relationship.

Cost is important to address head-on (it is often the elephant in the room). From the Language That Works e-book on the AVMA website, pet owners’ first association with veterinary care is money – but for the most part, they aren’t budgeting for regular veterinary care and aren’t aware of payment options. “Owners appreciate when their veterinarian demonstrates understanding about cost of care and even voices a desire to help make veterinary care more affordable.”

The AVMA said it has received great feedback from members who have taken the Axon course, conference attendees, and those who have made use of the Language of Care resources made available. “Members have shared their appreciation for the information and insights and for AVMA providing an actionable tool they can use to ease a potentially challenging aspect of daily life in clinical practice.”

For more information, visit avma.org/resources-tools/practice-management/communicating-clients-using-right-language-improve-care.


Photo credit: istockphoto.com/shironosov

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/RossHelen