Ask for recommendations
“A good way to begin your search for a high quality veterinary practice is to ask for recommendations from friends and family,” says Dr. Meredith Hope, fulltime Veterinary Technology instructor at Brown Mackie College - Louisville. “Word of mouth from people with experience as a client can be valuable. You can also read online reviews and look at veterinary websites for information on specific doctors and practices.”
Dr. Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary advisor of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, suggests paring down your list of options by looking for a practice that is certified by American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). This independent organization has developed accreditation standards to measure excellence in veterinary medicine. “AAHA represents the gold standard in quality,” Kellogg says. “Certification is voluntary and shows that a practice goes above and beyond to ensure certain standards are met both for the doctors and the facility.”
Visit the practice
“Practices grow by developing relationships that show you are valued as a client,” says Hope. The temperament and qualifications of the overall staff say a lot about the practice. “Staff members trained as registered veterinary technicians (RVTs) are a good sign of quality care,” continues Hope. “The training provides clinical competence and technical knowledge.” This can go a long way in easing your mind about the people who will play a major role in your pet’s care.
One of the first things many people notice about the veterinarian is his or her bedside manner. Are you comfortable talking to and listening to this person? Keep in mind you are looking for a medical expert; you want to weigh more than personality. “How do you know what the vet knows?” asks Kellogg. “Technical knowledge and educational status aren’t easy to judge from the outside. Your decision should come from a blend of interpersonal relationship and educational knowledge and credentials.” Credentials are typically displayed on an office wall in the form of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
In addition to office visits, how accessible is the veterinarian or a professionally trained staff member to answer your questions on the phone? “If a practice is too busy to respond, you may want to rethink your decision,” says Kellogg. “You want access to guidance when you have a question about your pet. As a client, you deserve personal service and attention. Some practices now use email as a forum to answer questions.”
In case your pet ever requires surgery and an overnight stay at the veterinarian’s office, it’s a good idea to ask up front about overnight care. “Some practices have an attendant on site throughout the night,” Hope says. “Others may assign a staff member to check in periodically. If there is no night staff, many will transfer the patient to a local ER veterinary clinic for overnight monitoring.” Each pet owner must decide what seems right for each pet. “Animals need some kind of supervision, even after a simple spay procedure,” says Kellogg. “The larger multi-doctor practices may be more available to staff the facility at night, sharing off-hour coverage.”
No one knows your pet better than you do
“Veterinary care involves give and take between you, the doctor and the staff. Most pet owners want to make their own decisions about their pets with appropriate guidance from the practice,” says Kellogg. “I feel a veterinarian’s responsibility is to present treatment alternatives objectively and let the individual decide how to proceed.”