This guideline outlines the appropriate standard expected of a registered veterinary practitioner in the course of veterinary practice. It should be read in conjunction with other related guidelines.
Context to Guideline 4: Communication between veterinary practitioner and owner or professional peers
Communication relating to the provision of veterinary services takes many forms between individuals. Communications can be targeted, such as in a consultation, veterinary medical record or template form seeking informed consent; or broad, such as public-facing advertisements and social media interactions.
All individuals involved in communications about veterinary services share responsibility to contribute to such exchanges with honesty, respect and openness. The principle of effective communication is shared responsibility of the veterinary practitioner, the owner and professional peers.
As also detailed in Guideline 7 on veterinary medical records, in sharing the responsibility for the wellbeing of the animal receiving veterinary services, an owner should provide accurate information about their animal’s history and wellbeing to a veterinary practitioner. This will assist diagnosis and delivery of appropriate veterinary services and support the accuracy of the medical veterinary record maintained by the veterinary practitioner.
The owner also has a responsibility to seek additional information if they need clarification or require alternative options to a veterinary practitioner’s proposed approach to delivery of veterinary services.
Effective communication skills include active and reflective listening, questioning for clarification, consistent and timely messaging and self-awareness.
Veterinary practitioners are encouraged to develop their skill in navigating difficult conversations and in conflict resolution. A breakdown in communication between a veterinary practitioner and an owner is the trigger for many complaints received by the Board.
While verbal and non-verbal communication may be appropriate and sufficient to ensure understanding in some contexts, the Board encourages the concurrent use of written information where practical. For example, written aftercare information, cost estimates for procedures, instructions for multiple medications or for animal management all assist the owner to understand clearly and help veterinary practitioners to document communications efficiently.
Preferably, informed consent and informed financial consent should be obtained in writing, for example by using a pro forma consent form. This form should include:
- the name and contact details of the owner (or their delegate), including details of their availability during the treatment period
- a clear description of the animal
- the details of the owner’s designated representative, including the representative’s signature
- a clear description of the treatment/procedure to be undertaken
- a statement of the risks involved and the owner’s acceptance of these risks
- an estimate of the costs to deliver the chosen treatment/management plan
- the owner’s signature.
A veterinary medical emergency presenting in an environment that is time-critical and potentially emotionally charged does not lessen the need for communication to be effective and genuine.
This material is current only at the time of publication and may be changed from time to time. The Board reviews and updates the Guidelines on a continuous basis to reflect changes in the science and knowledge base underpinning contemporary veterinary practice. The Board will take reasonable steps to inform the veterinary profession when such updates are released but it remains the responsibility of the individual veterinary practitioner to ensure that their knowledge and application of these Guidelines to their own practice is current.
While the Board has made every effort to ensure that the material in these Guidelines is correct in law, it shall not be liable to any veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity in relation to any claim, action or proceeding whatsoever (whether in contract, negligence or other tort or in proceedings seeking any other form of legal or equitable remedy or relief) for any inadequacy, error or mistake, or for any deficiency in the whole or any part of this document (including any updates incorporated in the document from time to time). A veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity acting upon the contents of this document acknowledges and accepts that this is the basis upon which the Board has produced these Guidelines and made them available to such person or entity.