Clinical Techniques: Communication Skills + MDT

Clinical Techniques: Communication Skills + MDT

Interpersonal + Communication Skills

Interpersonal skills encompass a wide range of skills we use every day in our professional and personal roles. These are invaluable core skills to communicate and interact effectively with individuals and groups of people.

These include communication skills such as listening, conversation and speaking, as well as the skills to manage and control your emotions.

Interpersonal skills are a key foundation for successful practice and include effective communication skills with others; whether family, friends, clients, colleagues and members of the public.

Interpersonal skills can be improved by developing awareness skills and strategies of how to interact positively and effectively. Research has evidenced that practising skills in different scenarios with others, this will help to improve and advance your interpersonal skills.

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Qualities for effective interpersonal skills include;

  • Active listening skills
  • Productive teamwork
  • Being responsible and dependable
  • Leadership skills
  • Motivational skills
  • Flexibility and good time management
  • Patience
  • Willingness to practice skills

Interpersonal Skills in Canine Therapy

An essential core skill for therapists is their professional interpersonal and communication skills. Therapists need to be multi-lingual to use the appropriate language for both the dog's in their professional care and supporting their owners, as well as their professional colleagues in the multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Canine language is different to human language - dogs are "watchers" and humans are "listeners".

Owners are often worried and anxious about their dog when approaching a therapy centre to access their services. If the therapist uses veterinary terminology it can often exclude the owner rather than assist them to open up and share their concerns.

You can learn so much from your owners if you use language they are familiar with and use "open" questions. This will lead to gaining their trust and confidence and is a great way to work, as everyone wishes to feel valued and listened to.

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Using open questions is important and inclusive, providing detailed answers. They often begin with why, what, how, tell me or describe and you are listening to the other person's knowledge and opinions. Let them feel listened to and valued. Whereas closed questions consist of yes or no answers.

When communicating with other professionals in your multidisciplinary team (MDT) ensure you use appropriate veterinary terminology. For example, when writing your report to a Veterinary Neurologist, refer to the dog's thoracic and pelvic limbs rather than forelimb and hindlimb, as this will emphasise your understanding of appropriate terminology and neurology knowledge in your communications with the neurology specialist.

Gaining the referring veterinary surgeon's confidence is paramount to your clinical success.

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Clinical Tip: When communicating with your referring veterinary surgeon (RVS), always use a friendly and respectful approach that is clear, open and relevant, using appropriate veterinary terminology.

Legalities, professionalism + record keeping

Therapists working in the UK canine healthcare sector have professional responsibilities and obligations to abide by. The legal framework is currently under review with changes coming in to update legislation and professional guidance.

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Clinical Tip: Always refer to the most up to date and current legislation and professional guidance.

It's a UK legal requirement that every dog seen by a therapist is working with the Registered Veterinary Surgeon (RVS) and has current veterinary delegation / consent / referral. Best practice is to obtain a signed and dated form from the RVS to treat a dog using physiotherapy and / or therapeutic hydrotherapy.

Duty of Care

All UK healthcare professionals owe a "Duty of Care" which is a legal obligation to provide a reasonable standard of care and ensure both the dog and owner are safe at all times. 

Canine professionals owe a legal Duty of Care to their canine clients / patients and owners.

When assessing and treating, therapists hold temporary custody of the dog and have a duty of care. This includes appropriate handling skills, providing appropriate conditions to deliver a service, delivering reasonable skills and care working with the dog, and must do no harm.

Using a Therapeutic Hold, named a Puppy Hold which is part of Canine Movement Enrichment - Therapeutic Handling).
Using a Therapeutic Hold, named a Puppy Hold which is part of Canine Movement Enrichment - Therapeutic Handling).
Using Therapeutic 2 Point Control moving the dog actively in natural balanced motion (part of Canine Movement Enrichment).
Using Therapeutic 2 Point Control moving the dog actively in natural balanced motion (part of Canine Movement Enrichment).

Professional Code of Practice

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Professionalism relates to the skills, behaviour and competencies of the therapist's specific work role.

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Ethical practice relates to moral principles that govern the professional behaviour of the therapist. 

Code of Practice is the professional guidelines of behaviour, clinical skills and competencies and may include;

  • Working within defined standards
  • Demonstrating clinical reasoning and critical thinking skills
  • Understanding limitations and working within each therapists scope of practice
  • A commitment to maintaining and developing professional expertise
  • Delivering a safe and effective service that is caring and animal centred
  • A smart appearance and appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • A confident demeanour with good interpersonal skills

The therapist is required to uphold professional and regulatory standards as part of their Code of Practice and Duty of Care.

This includes generating accurate and timely records for each dog and safely storing these records for the required time frame.

Different professional associations and trade associations will have their specific Code of Practice (Conduct) and it is usual to reaffirm your commitment and obligation to working within these professional guidelines. Associations are there to support, mentor and guide you along your canine therapy career.

Currently the UK sector is unregulated and there are a couple of voluntary registers whose role is to police the sector and they have a very different role to the professional associations.

Record Keeping

Notes need to be accurate, legible, appropriate and timely to ensure the canine therapist is meeting their professional and legal requirements. If you use abbreviations or a similar short hand in either hand written or typed notes, make sure you have a definition log of these abbreviations.

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Record keeping includes; veterinary delegation / consent / referral forms, therapy reports to other MDT members, assessment and treatment forms, water log forms, health and safety documentation, management policies and protocols, professional contracts, clinical audits, registration forms , CPD portfolio and insurance forms.

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In the UK all therapy assessment and treatment notes must have a signed and dated entry when they are written , as well as being securely stored.

What is the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT)?

The MDT are all those concerned with the care, treatment and health management of the dog. This may include individuals and professionals from diverse disciplines who come together to provide a comprehensive consultation, assessment and treatment.

Communication with owners and MDT members should be clear, concise, accurate, timely + memorable.

What is the purpose of the MDT?

  • Promotes coordination between the MDT
  • Provide a "checks and balances" mechanism to ensure an effective and cohesive patient approach is achieved
  • Identifies service gaps and breakdowns in coordination or communication between MDT members
  • Enhances professional skills and knowledge of individual team members by providing a forum for learning more about the strategies, resources and approaches used by various disciplines

Who is part of the MDT?

  • Owner client, groomer, dog walker, trainer, family members involved in the dog’s healthcare
  • First referral registered veterinary surgeon (RVS), second referral specialist
  • Physiotherapist, hydrotherapist, osteopath, chiropractor, massage therapist, bowen practitioner
  • Registered veterinary nurse (RVN), veterinary care assistant
  • TTouch practitioner, behaviourist

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The British Veterinary Association (BVA) embraces a Hub and Spoke Model and states that a Vet-led team delivers more joined-up care, better client relationships, and effective use of skills. Most importantly, vet-led teams offer improved animal health, animal welfare, and public health outcomes.

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Practice Activity: Devise a spider diagram or bullet list to identify the MDT you work within. Add possible new members to your MDT network and plan how to effectively communicate with your existing and future MDT for your practice.

Abbreviations should not be used to exclude MDT members so be mindful of the different knowledge base within your MDT and target your language to fit each team member, including the owner client.

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Signpost Hub 5: Terminology + Abbreviation

Therapeutic Summary

Therapeutic Handling and Touch techniques are part of Canine Movement Enrichment Techniques, leading to the therapist and dog building a professional mutual trust and confidence. We now know this empowers the efficacy of your clinical approach and treatment strategies.

Owners always prefer to see their dog trust and choose to work with the therapist in a confident and focused manner. The scientific evidence for this choice of practice is overwhelmingly strong as Therapeutic Handling techniques are incredibly proprioceptively enriched and integrate canine biomechanics with canine behaviours.

Why does this matter?

We now know that this engaged and focused canine - therapist communication as part of both active movement patterns and compliant participation, with applied manual therapies leads to amazing outcomes and improves dogs lives.

Make every therapeutic touch matter and build professional connections that count!

Therapeutic Palpation is used to build trusted connections with each dog, analyse and evaluate soft tissue changes, muscle tension and tone, identify texture and temperature changes, detect damage in soft tissues and muscle spasm.

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Clinical Tip: Therapeutic Palpation is a communication skill which uses Therapeutic Touch and this is a dynamic and interactive "two way process".

This Bitesize Canine Resource Library was produced for you and is owned by K9HS Courses