In response to the question I field most frequently (though seldom worded so succinctly), I’ll offer you a post that attempts a concise response to the issue of quality in veterinary care...and how you know you’re getting it.
It’s like the tired old quip on porn: No one quite knows how to define it...but you always know it when you see it. So goes quality in veterinary care. Hard to define...but usually recognizable as such when you get it. No, not always (nor is porn, frankly) but some constants do hold.
Here’s my version of how to know if you’re getting it from your veterinarian and/or veterinary hospital:
#1 Continuity of care
Do you get to see the same veterinarian if you choose to? If not, is it obvious that your pet’s records are so meticulously maintained that everyone’s always on the same page?
#2 Staff retention
Do you see a different set of staff members every single time you walk in your hospital’s doors? That can’t bode well for other aspects of the business––most notably, your pet’s care.
#3 Reliance on specialists
Though I’ve heard it said that a veterinarian who refers to specialists is one that is not confident of her abilities, modern veterinary medicine would not agree...nor do our courts. Clients have the right to receive all their options when it comes to caring for their pets’ more complex conditions.
#4 A culture of [human] compassion
It’s the hardest thing to quantify. And the one thing otherwise stellar hospitals often lack. In fact, it’s the best places (technically-speaking) that can’t always muster the compassion you deserve––particularly with respect to financial options.
#5 Access to a 24-hour care facility
Ideally, this would be contained in-house. Being offered the choice to have your sick pet spend the night in a nearby 24-hour facility is second best. The key is this: When your pet requires round-the-clock vigilance you’re offered a solution that bests a night in a dark hospital with no one to watch over her.
You know it when you smell it.
#7 Certified veterinary technicians
These employees are expensive and not all hospitals can afford them. Some areas have too few to go around even if veterinarians were willing and able to pay for this [typically] more highly educated kind of staff member. But when they’re there, you know you’re getting better quality than what most of us can currently offer you. (Look for name tags that say “CVT,” “LVT” or “CAHT.”)
#8 Computerized medical records
Goes to continuity of care and speaks to a hospital’s willingness to keep track of every detail.
#9 Digitized imaging
This refers to X-rays and/or ultrasound images that can easily be sent away for a second opinion. Even if digital images aren’t available, many vet hospitals make it work by referring images for second opinion through the mail or by trekking them over to the radiologist themselves. The idea is that there’s a willingness to share, explore alternatives and seek better care where possible.
#10 Pet friendly concessions
Not all hospitals think hard about what your pets need to be comfortable. Places where pheromone sprays soothe your cats, no-slip surfaces assuage your dog's fears and technicians offer a gentle touch... These can be hard to find. And when you do, you'll know it right away.
But as always, there’s a caveat involved in the interpretation of these signs of quality: Sometimes you’re just not willing to pay for all the bells and whistles quality brings (or you couldn’t afford it even if you were). No matter. You still deserve to know what these look like so you can make an informed choice of veterinarians.
But frankly, some of these signs of quality don’t cost very much. Nor should they raise your prices. Excellent clinicians and great hospitals can be found at every level. Still, it is true that finding value is hard––regardless of what you’re willing to pay. Here’s hoping this list helps you find it.
PS: Feel free to add to my list. Most of you have far more experience consuming veterinary services than I do. So speak up!
PPS: Thanks to Terrierman, Patrick Burns for the beautiful foxhound pups pic at the top. All ten are just gorgeous!