Veterinarian-client-patient communication during wellness appointments versus appointments related to a health problem in companion animal practice

J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2008 Nov 15;233(10):1576-86. doi: 10.2460/javma.233.10.1576.


Objective: To compare the clinical interview process, content of the medical dialog, and emotional tone of the veterinarian-client-patient interaction during wellness appointments and appointments related to a health problem in companion animal practice.

Design: Cross-sectional descriptive study.

Sample population: A random sample of 50 companion animal practitioners in southern Ontario and a convenience sample of 300 clients and their pets.

Procedure: For each practitioner, 6 clinical appointments (3 wellness appointments and 3 problem appointments) were videotaped. The Roter interaction analysis system was used to analyze the resulting 300 videotapes.

Results: Wellness appointments were characterized by a broad discussion of topics, with 50% of data-gathering statements and 27% of client education statements related to the pet's lifestyle activities and social interactions. Wellness appointments included twice as much verbal interaction with the pet as did problem appointments, and the emotional atmosphere of wellness appointments was generally relaxed. There were more social talk, laughter, statements of reassurance, and compliments directed toward the client and pet. In contrast, during problem appointments, 90% of the data gathering and client education focused on biomedical topics. Coders rated veterinarians as hurried during 30 of the 150 (20%) problem appointments; they rated clients as anxious during 39 (26%) problem appointments and as emotionally distressed during 21 (14%).

Conclusions and clinical relevance: Results suggested that veterinarian-client-patient communication differed between wellness and problem appointments. Owing to the emphasis on biomedical content during problem appointments, veterinarians may neglect lifestyle and social concerns that could impact patient management and outcomes, such as client satisfaction and adherence to veterinarian recommendations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Bonding, Human-Pet
  • Communication*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Patient Participation*
  • Time Factors
  • Veterinarians / psychology*
  • Veterinary Medicine / methods*
  • Veterinary Medicine / standards
  • Videotape Recording
  • Young Adult