I have a unique perspective on owners’ relationships with their veterinarians. I provide end of life care, including hospice and euthanasia services, in my patients’ homes. Clients tend to be very candid with me regarding their feelings about their “regular” veterinarians. Most have nothing but good things to say about the doctors, technicians, and support staff, but every now and then, I’ll hear a comment that makes me think, “Why do you keep going back?”
Over the years I’ve compiled a mental list of warning signs that the veterinary-patient-client relationship is not all that it should be. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone has bad days and no one can excel in every aspect of veterinary care, but if you’ve had more than one experience similar to those listed below, it might be time to think about switching vets.
- The clinic is visibly dirty or smells “off.” Caring for animals is often associated with unpleasant sights and smells, but they should not be a permanent part of the ambience.
- The staff is reluctant to give you a tour of their facilities. You may not be able to see every nook and cranny at any one time (Would you want someone traipsing through the surgical suite while your pet was being worked on?), but explanations as to why certain areas are off limits should be understandable.
- The doctors or staff have an uncaring attitude toward their patients or the people who are attached to them. For example, if the doctor is running late (emergencies do happen) you should be told approximately how long your wait might be and given the option of rescheduling or dropping your pet off.
- No provisions are made for after hour emergencies. It is unreasonable to expect that your favorite doctor be available 24/7, but information regarding whom to call and where to go should be readily available.
- Your questions, both those dealing with your pet’s care and the costs associated with it, are deflected or not addressed directly. Good patient care is impossible without open communication.
- The doctor has out of date or spotty knowledge. However, no one can keep on top of all aspects of veterinary care (run if you come across a doctor who appears to think that he or she can). Therefore the phrases “I don’t know but I’ll find out for you” or “I’d like to refer you to a specialist” are actually signs that the veterinarian knows his or her limits.
- Outcomes are routinely worse than expected. There are no guarantees in medicine, but poorer than average results should be the exception rather than the rule.
- You just don’t click with the doctors and other professionals with whom you’ve been working. Your veterinarian doesn’t have to be your best friend, but a level of mutual respect and trust is necessary for the owner-veterinarian relationship to work.
Ideally, you should change veterinarians when your pets are well or at least not suffering from serious health concerns. The worst time to harbor doubts about the quality of veterinary care is when a pet is sick.
Dr. Jennifer Coates