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Veterinary scene Down Under: Human behavior in veterinary medicine, plus addressing One Health and biosecurity issues


Understanding human behavior for better animal health outcomes, and a new veterinary consultancy focused on a holistic approach to biosecurity and One Health

Human behavior insights to aid animal health

Veterinarian and leadership coach Jessica Moore-Jones, BVMS, MBA, MSc, is the founder of Unleashed Coaching and Consulting, which provides expert advice and education on people solutions for the animal industry. She focuses on obtaining a better understanding of human behavior and how to influence the behavior of animal owners to achieve better outcomes for animal health.

Jessica Moore-Jones, BVMS, MBA, MSc, the founder of Unleashed Coaching and Consulting, leading a presentation.

Jessica Moore-Jones, BVMS, MBA, MSc, the founder of Unleashed Coaching and Consulting, leading a presentation.

“I help veterinary teams work with how human minds do work, rather than how we wish they did. It not only improves patient outcomes, anything from finishing the whole course of antibiotics, reducing treats in an obese dog, doing the dental (even though it may be considered expensive), or sticking to preventative health programs, but it also improves veterinary well-being by reducing our frustration with clients,” said Moore-Jones to dvm360®.

“The way we've often been taught to get people to follow our recommendations is to convince them that we are right, by selling them on the science. This fails to consider how the human brain is wired, and the dozens of mental shortcuts and illogical pathways that our daily decision-making relies on. Knowing better and doing better aren't necessarily correlated. If they were, most of us would eat healthier and exercise more.”

During her veterinary career, Moore-Jones has worked as the manager of wildlife health at Taronga Zoo, in leadership and executive roles at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and management roles in various animal shelters and veterinary clinics in developing countries. Her interest in human behavior for animal outcomes started during her time as CEO of the RSPCA in Darwin.

“I couldn't understand why, despite knowing that adopting was more ethical than breeding, or that desexing was in the best interest of the cat community, many people still didn't. When I began to study how to improve human behavior, I realized that other industries had been using this knowledge for decades and the animal sector was still treating it as soft skills that didn't belong in our world of science and facts,” explained Moore-Jones.

“As with most people, we don't know what we don't know, and in this space, the veterinary industry couldn't see the gap. If you feel like you have the same conversation over and over, if you give excellent advice that people promptly ignore, or if you put a lot of your energy into getting people to do the right thing only to have the same problem the following month, then the answer isn’t in giving them more knowledge, it’s in understanding how to change their behavior, not their minds!”

Moore-Jones said that there are multiple ways that veterinary businesses can implement a better understanding of human behavior into the way their clinics function. From how a clinic’s reception area can be set up to improve the likelihood of people purchasing recommended products, to how to better discuss clinical treatments and recommendations in the consultation room to improve patient outcomes.

“Human behavioral sciences have been used by governments, marketing companies, and even doctors for decades. In the human medical field, the science and art of human behavior is applied every day. Whether it's hospitals encouraging their preferred birthing process or specialists co-designing a treatment plan with their patient, these interventions are all specifically targeted at changing a behavior, without needing to convince a patient what the 'right' thing to do is,” said Moore-Jones.

Moore-Jones explained that it’s about veterinarians changing their thinking to get animal owners to change their behaviors, which can be done without compromising the scientific knowledge underlying the practice of veterinary medicine.

“For example, if we're trying to convince a pet owner that a grade two dental is necessary, we can utilize the phenomenon of loss aversion. This is where people feel the pain of losing something twice as hard as they feel the pleasure of gaining something, and you can spend time discussing how much more it would cost the pet owner if they wait until it's a grade four dental, rather than spending time convincing them of the benefits of doing it sooner,” explained Moore-Jones.

“If we're trying to convince someone to take our recommended treatment pathway, we can use a technique called anchoring, where we give them a higher price point to compare against before mentioning the actual cost. And a very important human behavior tactic that we all understand to some degree, but perhaps don't use strategically enough, is the awareness that people are more likely to stick to a treatment plan that they have helped build. This is known as the collaborative care model approach.”

According to Moore-Jones, while others are doing similar work on specific components of human behavior change, Unleashed Coaching and Consulting is the only group combining this niche knowledge with her experience of what it's like in the real world of veterinary consultations.

“This is an extremely unique area of the veterinary profession. Unfortunately, it is often mistaken for simply being communication skills, and clinics feel that training in customer service covers this space without realizing that it is a completely different perspective, a novel way of thinking, and an opportunity to completely rethink their client interactions,” shared Moore-Jones.

Holistic approach to biosecurity and One Health

Building on her multifaceted veterinary career in private practice, government, and the not-for-profit sector, including most recently completing more than 5 years as the chief veterinary officer of the state of New South Wales, Sarah Britton, BVSc, Dip Vet Clin Stud, MANZCVS, GAICD, has established One Biosecurity Solutions. This consultancy provides a unique approach to addressing One Health and biosecurity issues.

Sarah Britton, BVSc, Dip Vet Clin Stud, MANZCVS, GAICD, founder and principal consultant of One Biosecurity Solutions.

Sarah Britton, BVSc, Dip Vet Clin Stud, MANZCVS, GAICD, founder and principal consultant of One Biosecurity Solutions.

“The need for leaders with extensive experience to find solutions through collaborative efforts across human, animal, plant, and environmental sectors while building leadership and capability, was apparent and was the impetus to develop this niche consultancy,” explained Britton to dvm360.

“The management of One Health and biosecurity issues in silos undermines the effectiveness of addressing key risks. One Biosecurity Solutions advocates for a holistic approach that reduces impacts and enables the implementation of long-term policies.”

Britton said that with the increasing incidence of global biosecurity incursions and disease spillover events posing a risk to humans, the need for immediate and effective solutions has become more critical than ever.

“Through providing strategic recommendations to drive improvement and reduce biosecurity risks and impacts on industry and the community, this enables a holistic and longer-term approach to be adopted that can make greater change in preparedness and prevention and policy making,” said Britton.

“Issues like identifying gaps in veterinary surge capacity to provide recommendations for capacity and capability building; and pressure-testing biosecurity measures to prevent Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 impacting wild birds and poultry.”

Providing consultancy services and leadership coaching to government, industry, and research, One Biosecurity Solutions will be able to draw on a wide array of expertise through connections to a diverse network of consultants.

“Our commitment is to create a healthier, more sustainable world by addressing biosecurity and One Health threats through collaboration, expertise, leadership, and capability development,” said Britton.

“We also tap into an extensive network of experts from the leadership, biosecurity, emergency management, and One Health fields to build a collaborative approach to help clients build their capability and find solutions to reduce the impacts of these global events. Our team is confident in its capabilities to achieve these goals and positively impact society.”

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