Communicating Health Information to Pet Owners

Mark Epstein, DVM, DABVP, CVPP, Total Bond Veterinary Hospitals, Gastonia, North Carolina

ArticleLast Updated November 20223 min read
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In the literature

Janke N, Coe JB, Bernardo TM, Dewey CE, Stone EA. Use of health parameter trends to communicate pet health information in companion animal practice: a mixed methods analysis. Vet Rec. 2022;190(7):e1378. doi:10.1002/vetr.1378

The Research …

Monitoring trends in veterinary patient health parameters (eg, diagnostic test results, body weight) is typically encouraged1,2; however, no studies have explored pet owner and clinician perceptions of using these trends or how they are used in conversations with owners. 

This study aimed to assess owner and clinician perceptions on and use of health parameter trends during information exchange between owner and clinician. Characteristics (eg, visual aids) associated with discussions of health parameter trends were also examined.

Independent focus groups of pet owners and clinicians were conducted to assess perception of how health parameters trends are communicated, and examination room conversations were video recorded during 917 appointments. Transcripts of the recordings were evaluated using a validated content analysis method. Results showed owners prefer to receive a physical copy of test results rather than just hear them, be told actual values rather than that values fall within normal range, be shown trends in place of static values from the most recent visit, and have information presented both verbally and with visual aids (eg, color-coded graphs, charts). 

In contrast to results from owner focus groups, some clinician respondents expressed belief that owners are indifferent about specific test values. Many clinicians indicated they only provide copies of test results when requested by the owner and do not present information via graphs or charts. In the transcripts, <10% of examinations included a discussion of health parameter trends, and only 9% of these discussions included a visual aid. Patient body weight was the most common health parameter trend shared by clinicians but typically only if the patient was overweight. 

Clinicians cited a number of obstacles in sharing and discussing health parameter trends, including owner reactions (eg, overreaction to minimal changes), communication methods (eg, in person, phone, email), cost (eg, owner reluctance to repeat tests to evaluate trends), and time.

The authors identified opportunities to help incorporate owner desires with clinician communication, including use of integrated software that can create and distribute visual aids.

… The Takeaways

Key pearls to put into practice:

  • Owners may expect to receive more information about their pet’s health parameters (eg, weight, diagnostic test results) than is typically given.

  • Owners prefer to receive test results in the form of trends (eg, presented via color-coded graphs, charts) rather than static numbers.

  • Lack of time and software that can generate graphs and charts with weight and diagnostic value trends may be the most significant barriers to delivering information. Existing resources, including the canine and feline AAHA life stage guidelines (see Suggested Reading) and canine evidence-based growth charts based on age and breed, can help meet owner communication expectations.3