AAHA accreditation: do you know (or care about) how that affects your pet?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: April 05, 2007
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Have you ever heard of AAHA? It’s the four-letter acronym for the American Animal Hospital Association, a professional organization of vets who seek to increase the standard of care for pets through an accreditation process. Hospital membership is granted only to veterinary practices that meet standards deemed important for distinguishing higher quality practices from all others.

Of course, AAHA certification demands the standard of care we should all [theoretically] be providing. So why offer a special membership or certification process?

Because standardized record-keeping, above-and beyond OSHA compliance methods, healthier hospital design and careful policies and procedures for staff and doctors (like less frequent vaccine protocols) make for better care—but they can be extremely difficult (read: expensive and time consuming) to execute.

AAHA forces each member practice work consistently to meet these laudable but not-easy-to-implement goals. It’s a good thing, yet…

Many high-quality practices do not seek membership for a variety of reasons (there are only two or three AAHA hospitals in my general area). Some complain that AAHA requirements are overly onerous, especially for hospitals limited by space concerns (such as those in big-city, high-expense storefronts). Others argue that it discriminates against older practices where the quality of care is excellent but the structural changes necessary for pre-1980 practices are cost-prohibitive.

Still others believe the accreditation process is useless, countering that the vast majority of the pet-owning population has no idea what it means for a hospital to have obtained AAHA certification. And maybe that’s true, but…

I believe that if more hospitals (especially new places where AAHA standards would be easier to implement, by initial design) worked hard to gain certification, then our clients would come to recognize what the AAHA means when they see the sticker on our door or its logo on our Yellow Pages ad.

Once we reach a tipping point (to use an overused but still-useful term), vets will feel it’s worth the extra stress to meet this high bar. Consequently, all our professional practice standards will rise (it’ll no longer be the standard to keep minimal radiology records, for example) and pets everywhere will, on average, receive better care.

But if AAHA requirements are costly to put into practice, doesn’t that mean that our pet healthcare expenses will rise accordingly? There’s a downside to everything. But, rest assured, there will always be room for non-AAHA practices.

Another issue vets worry about: Is AAHA the right organization to make this happen (as some contend that it’s not—for political reasons)? For the past thirty years, I’ve seen no one else stepping up to the plate. Looks like we’ll just have to run with AAHA—like it or not. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) is far too broad-based—and painfully slow-moving—to make anything like this possible.

For the record, our hospital does not have AAHA certification for reasons of space, internal architecture, and the procedures that would be extremely difficult to implement in our deeply institutionalized workplace. And, for the record, I do wish we’d change the latter issue but we’re kind of old-school—which has its pros and cons, of course.

My ideal practice? Old school at heart with the new-fangled policies and procedures that help keep every patient’s care in line with the best in the country. At our place, it’s up to each individual doctor to set his or her own standards. And while we have great care (if I do say so, myself), extra requirements on each doctor (including me, no doubt) would help us practice even better medicine (especially when we’re very busy).

Maybe someday I’ll start my dream practice and get it AAHA accredited. But, for now, it’s old school care, new-fangled medicine—and everything in between.

I know you all are extra-specially interested in your pets’ healthcare by virtue of your reading this. However, do you mind going one step further and voting yea or nay on whether you’ve heard about the AAHA and (if so and should you have the time) what you think of it?