Guidelines of the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria
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Guideline 4 - Communication between veterinary practitioner and owner or professional peers

Professional conduct under this guideline is demonstrated by the following:
4.1 A veterinary practitioner’s actions and communication promote the positive standing of the veterinary profession.
4.2 A veterinary practitioner's behaviour and interactions with animal owners, veterinary team members, professional peers and members of the general public demonstrate honesty and integrity, professional accountability, self-management and respect.
4.3
A veterinary practitioner practises in a way that supports effective communication and trust and aligns with principles and obligations relating to confidentiality and consent.
4.4
A veterinary practitioner takes reasonable steps to ensure communication about the provision of veterinary services is clear, and understood by the owner and other individuals involved in the care of the animal.
4.5
Where several management options exist, a veterinary practitioner provides the owner, or their delegate, guidance on an appropriate range of options, including:
  1. diagnostic investigation, including any limitations in conducting diagnostics
  2. treatment
  3. prognosis
  4. potential complications and consequences, and
  5. the costs of each option.
4.6
A veterinary practitioner takes reasonable steps to establish that the individual presenting the animal has the authority to consent to a procedure or treatment or a course of action in relation to the animal receiving the veterinary service.
4.7
A veterinary practitioner obtains the informed consent of the owner before implementing a management strategy and providing veterinary services to the animal. Where the informed consent is provided verbally, a veterinary practitioner records the informed consent in the veterinary medical record.
4.8
A veterinary practitioner obtains the informed financial consent of the owner or the appropriate individual in the decision-making hierarchy before implementing a management strategy and providing veterinary services to the animal. Where the informed financial consent is provided verbally, a veterinary practitioner records the informed consent in the veterinary medical record.
4.9
A veterinary practitioner provides the owner or person designated as financially responsible with regular updates on treatment costs. A record of the updates is entered into the veterinary medical record. 
4.10
A veterinary practitioner who performs a treatment/procedure ensures that relevant information about ongoing care is provided to the owner or the individual responsible for the care of the animal. The information should include what to do if there are complications or any deterioration in the animal’s condition after the treatment or procedure.
4.11
A veterinary practitioner respects the rights of the owner to:
  1. decide on a management option (or options) for their animal from the range of options provided by the veterinary practitioner
  2. seek further explanations for the recommended treatment plan, seek a second opinion or request a referral
  3. decline or choose an alternate course of action to the one recommended by the veterinary practitioner, provided the animal’s wellbeing is not compromised.
4.12 When an unexpected adverse event, including unexpected death of the animal, occurs during the provision of veterinary services, a veterinary practitioner has the responsibility to inform:
  1. the owner of:
      a)  what happened
      b)  any actions taken to rectify the event at the time it occurred
      c)  what the short- and long-term consequences of the event are likely to be
      d)  the availability of post-mortem examination.
  2. the relevant authority of an adverse event involving the use, supply or administration of medicines
  3. the Board of the facts of the adverse event and resultant actions as part of any complaint investigation.

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:
  1. the name and contact details of the owner (or their delegate), including details of their availability during the treatment period
  2. a clear description of the animal
  3. the details of the owner’s designated representative, including the representative’s signature
  4. a clear description of the treatment/procedure to be undertaken
  5. a statement of the risks involved and the owner’s acceptance of these risks
  6. an estimate of the costs to deliver the chosen treatment/management plan
  7. 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.

Related guidelines

Related legislation

Date of publication
In effect from 1 May 2021.

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.