Do your histories and referral notes leave their recipients with more questions than answers? Image ©
Do your histories and referral notes leave their recipients with more questions than answers?

Communication in our profession interests me.

Histories I receive as part of the referrals process are often terse, brief, and don’t explain the full picture – this is to be expected in a situation where you have ten (sometimes fifteen) minutes to get the client and animal in, get a history and restrain, examine, formulate a plan and treat, as well as document what happens – all without doing it so efficiently that you seem rude!

Referral forms are the same, though explanations and discussion (e.g. as to why a particular path was followed) are more forthcoming on there, probably because the vet in question has a bit more time and is more inclined to discuss things. However, I still get quite a few “referral packs” containing nothing more than a history print out and a referral form that just says “see history” (or, even worse, is largely blank).

In cases like that it is very difficult to be positive about the case, particularly when I disagree or cannot see the logic in following a particular path in a case.

Before I go on, I’ll say I can live with that – there are few “right” and “wrong” answers in this world, and our profession is a prime example of this; there is more than one way to do things. Indeed, when people agree with me too much I feel a little uncomfortable! However it can be easy (and others report this feeling too) to feel that a case has been “dumped” rather than “referred” when communication is in that style.

And that is what prompted me to write this blog today… it seems to be the default for many of us (for I am not the only one to notice this) to take negative inferences when viewing the world. We see it every day.

Take driving for example. I was taught by my instructor that I shouldn’t drive in a way that causes other people to slow down – a good universal rule of thumb if ever there was one. If someone drifts out of line, cuts you up, or makes another “error” then the people behind will often grumble and cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the culprit’s ancestry. However, they could just accept that there is variation in everyone’s approach and style – as well as occasional errors – and they aren’t doing what they do specifically to annoy you!

negative-quoteIt may be a similar mental mechanism at play when we have someone else’s case in front of us; it seems to me to be the norm to pick holes in the case history.

I’ve seen this regularly, though. In past lives I have heard colleagues reading clinical histories (say on a second-opinion) and varying reactions from a light grumble through to criticising the vet(s) in question. It is very, very rare to hear “good call” or “nice one” when assessing a case.

In my current line of work we get cases transferred every day and we just get on with it and try to take the line the referring vet has taken, unless there is a strong disagreement with a very good reason. We’re aware there is often more to a case than we’re told (for example the client’s reactions and body language cannot be documented very well). When a colleague takes the time to phone I’ll drop everything bar the most pressing matter to talk because that passes on far greater clarity than anything written, I think.

So, if there is a message here, I’m saying “be aware of how communication with colleagues can be received” and “when on the receiving end, try to be aware if you are sliding down the slope of negativity”.

Ultimately we all have the same aims and goals.

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