When it comes to work, I have high standards for myself. Clients get my best effort every time. I expect the same of those who provide me with paid expertise in areas where I lack it — auto repair, health care, and tax preparation among them. The highest expectations, though, are for any vet and vet’s office staff members who care for my dogs.
In terms of dog health, Spot requires little more than an exam once a year and vaccinations when due, but Dolly has battled cancer twice. The many hours we spent in the offices of general practitioners, surgeons, and oncologists changed the way I interact with veterinarians. I now do independent research to arrive at appointments prepared, and I never feel guilty about asking the same questions twice or for additional clarification. Dolly and Spot rely on me to be their health-care advocate, after all.
As part of my duties, I must find them the best doctors. Our recent move from Phoenix to Houston had me starting from scratch, so I put together the following list of five must-haves in a vet to help me assess the practices we try out. (The must-haves are in order of process, not importance.)
1. Friendly and Helpful Front-Desk Staff
I expect the front-desk staff to greet us when we arrive, even if it’s just with a smile as they finish up with other pet parents. It’s basic customer service. I also appreciate being told if the wait will be long. Emergencies happen, and dogs in need of immediate medical care take precedence, of course. It’s just nice to show you value my time by keeping me posted.
We visited a new general practitioner this month for an allergy issue Spot was having and later for his annual exam, and the front-desk staffers did all of the above. They even provided us with information someone new to the area needs, such as health dangers specific to the state and a guide to licensing with the city. Bonus points!
2. Itemized Estimates and Bills
Before any planned procedure, I expect to get an itemized estimate. That has never been an issue with any vet we have visited. I was pleasantly surprised, though, when the previously applauded front-desk staff handed me an itemized estimate for Spot’s annual exam. It listed all of the doctor’s recommendations, giving me a chance to prepare questions. I also liked having a list for reference as opposed to keeping track mentally during a conversation that involves information that’s new to me.
I also want an itemized bill, which I know some practices believe is unnecessary if there was already a detailed estimate. Mistakes happen, which I learned after being billed twice for the same procedure during Dolly’s cancer treatment. The surgery and oncology departments each charged for a costly test, and I might not have noticed without an itemized bill because money was being deducted from a deposit paid at the beginning of treatment.
As pet parents, we hand over hundreds (if not thousands of dollars in the case of specialists) each year. We should not have to request itemized estimates or bills, and we should never be made to feel bothersome when asking questions about costs.
3. Vaccination Schedule Based on Need Not Greed
When Spot and Dolly were most recently due for vaccines in Phoenix, I brought up the most recent guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association with our general practitioner. After much back and forth, she admitted that while she personally recommended “X,” which matched these guidelines, it was her office’s policy to recommend “Y.” She did not point to greed as the reason, but how could I not assume the practice partners valued money more than the well being of my dogs?
The vet who performed Spot’s annual exam follows AAHA guidelines, and I plan to discuss antibody titer tests with her as an alternative when vaccines are due.
4. Knowledge of Traditional and Holistic Medicine
I would love to find a vet who did not respond to my questions about alternative medicine with either ignorance or the dismissive, “there is no scientific evidence to support …” On the other hand, I do not want a holistic practitioner who devalues traditional medicine. I have dealt with both kinds of doctors before and find each disappointing.
During Spot’s recent trips to the previously mentioned general practitioner, I failed to learn her viewpoints on holistic medicine. Overall, though, the practice has impressed me, so I plan to take Dolly in for her annual soon and discuss it then.
5. Follow-Up Communication
The allergy issue that brought us to this new vet initially swelled one of Spot’s eyes shut and made him a miserable pup. The vet thoroughly examined him, prescribed an antibiotic ointment, and later followed up with a steroid/antihistamine to ease his discomfort. The front-desk staff called to check on him the day after each appointment, and after his annual exam the vet herself called me within an hour of us leaving to let me know his annual blood work came back with no negative signs.
Some vets take the approach of, “If you don’t hear from us, assume all is well.” I appreciate getting good news by phone, too. It eases the sense of dread I have come to feel every time the number of a veterinary practice comes up as a call.
In addition to these five must-haves, I expect any doctor we regularly visit to give Dolly and Spot the love and attention they deserve. I did not include this in the list because it has never been an issue. Even the vets who we saw only once for whatever reason showered the dogs with affection. How could they not?
Let’s hear from you, readers. Are the above must-haves for you? Or are my expectations unrealistic? What other qualities do you look for in a vet? Please share in the comments.