A friend recently asked me how to find a good veterinarian. He lives too far away to come to my clinic, so he is in search of a quality clinic near his home. That got me to thinking – What do you do if you are moving to a new town or adopt a pet and have no established relationship with a vet. Or, perhaps you feel dissatisfied with the care you have received from a prior vet and are seeking a new one. One of the benefits of being long in the tooth is that I’ve got some suggestions for finding the perfect veterinarian for you.
Find an American Animal Hospital Association accredited clinic! Only about 15% of vet clinics in America go through the stringent AAHA inspection process and become one of these elite hospitals. It’s voluntary, but it’s a pretty good sign that it’s a quality clinic if it is AAHA accredited. Go to www.AAHA.org and click on the hospital locator tab. A good veterinarian will take the time to go through this process and get the AAHA approval.
Get references. Look at the clinic website. These days even seasoned vets, the ones who may have graduated BEFORE the advent of the internet, have websites. Most web designers will have an area for beloved clients to rave about their vet. Look at Google reviews. Ask your neighbors! If you are moving to a new town ask your current vet if they know of a good veterinarian in town you’re moving to. The vet community is actually kind of small.
Don’t just rely on a veterinarian’s charming bedside manner. I’ve worked with many a vet since I entered veterinary school back in 1988. I worked at a 17 doctor referral/ER practice, I ran a non-profit that took teams of vets to undeveloped countries, and I did relief work in dozens of practices before opening my own clinic. In all that time, I’d say 3 of the hundreds of vets I’ve worked alongside struck me as questionable in the brain department. Unfortunately all 3 of those vets had a charm about them. Their clients LOVED them, but the rest of the veterinarians at those clinics cleaned up after their medical mistakes. So, charming bedside manner should only play a small role. Sometimes you want to choose the nerd, the doctor who may not be the life of the party, to manage your sweetie’s medical care! This all said, you do need a vet who is willing to communicate and whose personality jives with your personality.
Does your veterinarian give you handouts and articles about medical conditions? If so, this is an excellent sign that your vet is one that cares. I’ve heard that the average person only understands about 5% of what the doctor says in an exam consultation. I found this extremely hard to believe until I went with my folks to one of my dad’s doctor appointments before he passed. I’ll be darned if they didn’t leave the consult with little clue of what the MD had said. I would have wondered if they had been there at all had I not been by their side. Let me tell you, I come from good stock. My mama and papa had brains. Knowing that retention can be questionable even with extremely intelligent clients, I like to send my clients home with handouts! I call it “homework”. Then when we have follow up calls or recheck exams I ask them a few questions to make sure they understand our plan!
Let’s go back to websites. You don’t need the fanciest website to be a good veterinarian. Ignore the bells and whistles of web design. I want you to look at the content of the website. Does the clinic have modern technology? Back when I made my living as a “relief vet”, I worked in a couple clinics that suffered from a time warp. One clinic in particular probably hadn’t changed much in decades. I felt like I was practicing in the 1970s. I didn’t last long there. I enjoy modern technology! Nothing beats a good physical exam, but medical technology results in a more speedy diagnosis and faster, appropriate treatment!
Ask for a tour! Meet the staff. Meet the doctors! If they are willing to say a hello to you when you are investigating clinics, you probably know they are the type who will be readily accessible when you need them down the road. Is the hospital clean? A good friend (and client) of mine recently took his pooch to another clinic when I was out of town attending a conference. He said that when he picked up his pets dog leash off the floor it was covered in hair and dust. Oh my. Yes, we work with fuzz buckets, but it is imperative to keep a clinic clean and sanitary. I’ve had clients tell me that my vet clinic smells good compared to other clinics they’ve used. How does a good vet clinic smell? It smells like nothing at all!
Chat with the office staff! Really good veterinary nurses don’t want to work with dummies! They want to be mentally challenged! A solid sign of a good veterinarian is an intelligent veterinary staff.
When quality vets get stumped or if things aren’t going well, they are willing to refer to specialists! They are open to second opinions. Referring patients to specialists when needed is actually a learning tool for general practitioners. Quality veterinarians do research online or consult local specialists for further options. A wise vet once told me that you miss more by not looking than not knowing. Hit the books. As a vet who has been practicing over 2 decades, I can say I study more now than I did when I was a new graduate.
If all else fails, go to a specialty practice or a university teaching practice if you have a pet with a hard to manage medical condition. You know that referral practices get to peek into a lot of general practices by way of receiving the difficult cases or medical failures.
The vast majority of vet practices in our country are fabulous, but it still pays to look. Above all else, use the ole sniff test. Trust your gut feeling.
You know I like hearing from our readers. Don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.