Excellent communication is always critical when practicing veterinary medicine, but it is imperative and can be particularly challenging in emergencies. Amy L. Grice, VMD, managing partner at Rhinebeck Equine LLP, described effective ways of communicating with clients in such scenarios, when emotions tend to run high, at the 2012 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

During an emergency, said Grice, "clients are thrown off balance, scared. They don’t know what to expect." Risk runs high in equine emergencies–to the patient, to personnel, and to the client’s financial and emotional well-being. She said the veterinarian needs to remain calm, assess the situation, take charge, and show leadership.

Grice pointed out that in a 2005 study of communication within a human pediatrics hospital, assigning a coordinator to listen to the families of hospitalized children and answer their questions produced a positive effect on the families’ perceptions of the care, even when questions that were answered had nothing to do with the medical condition. In another study from the human field, researchers demonstrated a significant difference in the behaviors of physicians with no malpractice claims compared those with claims filed against them. The practitioners without malpractice claims educated patients, built rapport, and spent an average of 3.3 minutes longer with their patients during routine visits.

For veterinarians who feel uncertain about their communications skills or "emotional intelligence," the news is good, said Grice. Unlike intellect, which is