What do you want for your pet?
I am preparing this information because I am dedicated to improving the care given to pets. We all like to think that veterinarians are an honest lot and would not cut corners on your pet's health. Most are. Some are not. First let me say most of the hospitals and veterinarians in my local area adhere to relatively high standards. However I have been in hospitals that have made practice decisions that I feel compromise medical care and therefore may affect your pet's health. Most hospitals that cut corners either do not appreciate there is a better way, or do not care.
I will further develop this guide as time goes by. I will stipulate that quality care and veterinary services has a price associated with it, just as a meal at McDonalds costs less than a meal at Red Lobster. It is very costly to become a veterinarian. It is even more costly to open a practice. Instrumentation prices are the same or even higher cost for veterinary medicine than for human medicine. In our county, unless a veterinarian wants to practice in an industrial zone, or in a commercial zone, there are severe restrictions and regulations to follow to comply with county government. It is nearly impossible to have a practice which mimics the rural location in the James Herriot books. Video to selecting veterinary services.
Questions you may want to ask when searching for a new veterinary hospital.
What is the typical wait time for your appointment? The more time you need to wait, the more nervous and stressed your pet (and yourself) may become.
What do you know about the veterinarian(s)? When scheduling appointments, do you have a choice of veterinarians to be scheduled with? If you value having a consistency of medical care, you may wish to always see the same veterinarian. Is that possible? Some hospitals with multiple veterinarians will try to match clients with veterinarians. Others may just schedule you with the next available doctor. Some hospitals have trouble keeping quality veterinarians. Can you find out about the back ground of the veterinarian you are scheduled with? Is the veterinarian a new graduate, experienced or even board certified? What is the veterinarians commitment to continueing education? Washington state does not verify continueing education. The licensing board merely questions if you have had 30 hours education over the prior 3 years. Veterinary medicine is changing as fast or faster then 'human' medicine. Is the veterinarian trying to keep up? Does it matter to you if the veterinarian studies about new anesthesia protocols, behavior or about reproduction? Those are but a few of the things that might interest a vet. What are your needs? How do they match your selection of veterinary hospitals?
How much time will your appointment be scheduled for? Typically there will be different time allowances for new clients/pet, ill or injured pets, well pets, and other various reasons for appointments. Times may range from 10 min to 60 min. You have a right to know how much time you can expect from the veterinarian. You may want to know if the same veterinarian is working 1 or 2 other exam rooms at the same time as your appointment. If the veterinarian has a great support staff, you may only see/visit for a few minutes, and you and your pet are getting great service, but if there is not adequate competent support staff, you may not be.
Is the experience for your pet important? I think it is. Animals have instincts about people and places and they may be stimulated into a fight or flight mode if a new person invades their territory, handles them quickly and starts poking and prodding them as is needed for hurried examinations. On the other hand, pets may relax and be happy to meet someone that is conscious of their behavior needs and gives them a few minutes to relax and accept the person. What do you think? Don't most of us want our pets to be wary of strangers and friendly to those we want them to be? Doesn't it make sense that a pet will be more cooperative and relaxed if there is some time for them to extrapolate the clues of the situation rather than just being rushed through an appointment? Did you know the more relaxed your pet the easier it is to handle them? If each visit they have a hurried appointment, maybe some injections, blood draws and strangers holding them don't you think they will become more frightened each subsequent visit? The more tense the pets are the more the will feel upset and feel increased pain from simple things like injections. Longer appointment times, a few minutes to greet you and your pet allow for stress levels to subside and you and your pet may have a pleasant pain free visit.
Will you have time to cover just the basics, or can you ask about behavior issues and training? Not all veterinarians are well educated in training and behavior. If you have a puppy would you like to get some input on why your puppy isn't housetrained yet? If you only have a 10 to 20 minute appoitment will there be enough time to find out what may be happening at home - which may indicate a health problem - which may not be obvious from just a simple exam. What about your puppies specific breed/type needs? Will the veterinarian make recommendations based on your pup's breed? Most veterinarians do know about many breed specifics but having the time to discuss them with you won't happen if you have 10-20 minutes only with them.
How are medical records kept? Are they legible? If another doctor needs to review the records, can they be read? If they cannot be read, what value are they to you? What value are they to your pet? Do they include all the recommended information? Among other things they should include results of physical exams, laboratory results, interpretation of radiographs, doses and how medications are dosed. If the veterinarian does not care enough to record the information so someone else could help your pet in the future, how could he/she care about your pet now? If your pet was not put on the scale, how can they know the weight of your pet? Or how can they track weight changes? When something goes wrong with your pet, will the medical record help determine the problem? Proper medical records can save you time and money and may save your pet from repeated diagnostics and treatments.
In Washington state, unless there is a consumer complaint there is no oversight on how a veterinarian is practicing and how they keep their medical records. There are rules, but no enforcement without a consumer complaint.
What do you know about the facility? Ask for a tour. A tour would not be complete unless the treatment areas, the surgical areas and the kennel areas are allowed to be viewed or visited. It is reasonable for a tour to be scheduled during a time convenient for the hospital. It is reasonable to ask for a tour before you become a client of the hospital. When on your tour check to see if the various areas are clean and relatively free of odors. If you can detect odors, your dog or cat can detect them and may process that information into anxiety or stress. Check to see, or ask about if the hospital reuses needles or syringes. One hospital would 'clean' the syringes and needles in the same bucket of disinfectant that they would dip (just used) thermometers in and also had a sponge in it for cleaning tables and counters. Although the syringes and needles were autoclaved, they would never be as sharp as new and could contain various amounts of organic materials. New needles and syringes are packaged in either a plastic casing or paper/plastic type package. Hospitals that do not reuse these will have new ones, and all others will be disposed of in the trash or into 'sharps' containers or 'biomedical waste' containers. Even many veterinarians are not aware that some brands of needles cause less pain and trauma to your pet.
Check to see how staff dries their hands. Reusing paper or cloth more than once before it is tossed or laundered is a source of spreading infection.
What sort of flooring is being used in areas where animal area. Flooring should be of an easy to clean material. Obviously, carpeting cannot be cleaned thoroughly, ever.
What is the protocol for vaccinations? Not all vaccines were created equal. Some vaccines are known to have higher adverse reactions. Should your pet be getting the vaccine? Does your vet require an exam before injectable vaccinations? It is not a good idea to vaccinate pets without considering their age, prior vaccines, current housing/care and exposure to disease, preexisting illnesses, and current physical findings. Vaccines can cause serious illness and should be used judiciously. Is the veterinarian recommending all vaccines, just because there is a vaccine product available? See my further information on Vaccination Issues.