Veterinary practice can inform human medicine

13 DECEMBER 2013

Research by a Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD graduate reveals there are many lessons that human medicine can learn from veterinary medicine about non-verbal patient examination and assessment.

Veronica MadiganResearch by a Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD graduate reveals there are many lessons that human medicine can learn from veterinary medicine about non-verbal patient examination and assessment.
Dr Veronica Madigan will graduate from the CSU School of Biomedical Science at the Faculty of Sciencegraduation ceremony in Wagga Wagga at 9.30am Monday 16 December, and her thesis is titled, 'Lessons that human medicine can learn from veterinary practice'.
"Human medicine is firmly situated in the 'question and answer' model of medicine where the patient is asked a series of questions about their health, illness or disease to help advance a diagnosis and the start of treatment," Dr Madigan said.
"The trouble with human medicine is that there are many problems with effective communication between the health care practitioner and the patient; for example, consider the non-English speaking patient, the mentally ill, the autistic, the paediatric patient, or the stroke patient. Many health care practitioners feel frustrated when the patient cannot communicate effectively, and the health assessment can stall at this point.
"On the other hand, veterinary practitioners never rely on verbal communication with their animal patients, yet can effectively understand, diagnose and treat these patients. So what non-verbal lessons can veterinary medicine teach human medicine?"
This research question was explored through interviews with fifteen national and international participants currently working in human health care. Participants had either an earlier background as a veterinary practitioner (veterinarians, veterinary nurses, zoo keepers, or farriers) and were now working in human medicine (doctors, paramedics, or registered nurses), or were human medical professionals (doctors, nurses, or medical lecturers) with an interest in veterinary medicine but no veterinary practitioner background.
"The study found that the participants who were working in human health care who had a veterinary practitioner background, believed that they were more successful in assessing and treating human patients who could not communicate or communicate effectively," Dr Madigan said.
"In contrast, the health care practitioners without a veterinary practitioner background, continually reported 'difficulty', 'frustration' and 'lack of success' when dealing with non-communicative patients.
"Participants with veterinary experience articulated the non-verbal communication and observational skills they had learnt in veterinary medicine and how these skills could assist the human health care practitioner improve patient care with non-communicative patients."
The outcome of the PhD was the development of two non-verbal charts that any health care practitioner (nurse, doctor, medical student, paramedic, allied health professional, etc) could use to clinically evaluate their non-verbal patient (Non-Verbal Patient Assessment Tool for Clinical Evaluation), or confirm whether the patient was in pain (Non-Verbal Behavioural Pain Indicator Tool). If the patient could verbalise, the charts could still be used to non-verbally validate the information being relayed by the patient.
In addition, the study suggests that non-verbal veterinary communication and observational skills are important for the education of many health professionals and could be easily incorporated into human medical curricula to help improve patient care.

In the last two years, these non-verbal charts have been used as an educational tool at Bathurst Base Hospital to assist health care students, with very positive results. Based on her PhD, Dr Madigan has developed a series of lectures for health care students (trainee doctors, nurses, new graduates, paramedics) from several universities at Bathurst Base Hospital to help improve their patient care and assessment skills.

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Animal and Veterinary science Charles Sturt University Research