Early in their training, veterinarians are taught to recognize the “normal” animal well before any introduction to animal disease. This may seem like an oversimplification of a comprehensive, four year education, but identifying what is normal teaches veterinarians to become tuned in to diagnosing abnormalities for patients that cannot speak for themselves.
Why am I making a big deal about this? Because I want every animal owner who seeks the advice of a veterinarian to realize if they are receiving not just professional, compassionate care, but also “value” from their veterinary visit.
Since America fell on hard times in 2008, it has become a challenge for pet and livestock owners, as well as veterinarians, to settle in to the new economic “normal.” We are all working harder for our dollars, and at the same time, being more judicious about how we spend money. That means more people are competing for the same flexible dollars in everyone’s budget.
As a consumer myself, I have become very tuned in to seeking “value” for my expenditures, whether they are necessary or for pleasure. Pet and livestock owners need to do the same when it comes to veterinary care. How, then, do you know if you are receiving value for your veterinary spending?
The greatest value for your veterinary care starts with the veterinary examination. I label it the “nose to toes” exam because I literally visualize and/or touch every part of the patient’s body. This examination is pre-empted by a short visit with a veterinary nurse or “technician” who obtains the patient’s weight and temperature. The technician also collects information for the pet’s medical record about the purpose of the visit, pet owner concerns, and needed medications or pet supplies. This assistant is also a trained professional who has a keen eye for abnormalities and will conduct a cursory exam before the doctor enters the exam room.
Once the veterinary technician has completed her responsibilities, the veterinarian then reviews the veterinary record that includes important past medical history prior to beginning the examination. When I enter an exam room, and only after greeting both the client and the pet, I first discuss with the pet owner the reason for the visit and the events that will follow. With these tasks completed, I then begin a thorough physical examination. As I am surveying and palpating my patient, I converse with the pet owner about my findings and make recommendations for any abnormal findings.
Conducting comprehensive physical exams is so engrained in veterinarians that we often forget to tell the pet owner everything we are doing. For example, did you know that during an exam your veterinarian is not just looking at your pet’s eyes, ears, and mouth and listening to your pet’s heart? She is also feeling your pet’s external lymph glands, studying symmetry of your pet’s body, checking toenail length and health, feeling your pet’s anal gland area for tumors, looking for tapeworm segments, feeling individual abdominal organ shapes, location and size, and assessing your pet’s body condition score.
Does your veterinarian take time to watch your pet move around in the exam room, ruffle your pet’s hair to visualize the skin, inquire about your pet’s diet and eliminations, sniff check your pet’s breath, ears and skin?
If your veterinarian does not share with you that this is what he or she is doing, how do you know your pet has received a thorough physical exam? Ask your veterinarian questions about your pet’s exam findings if she does not tell you … but you really should not have to as she should be sharing them with you throughout the exam.
I find it helpful to complete a paper check list of my findings, both normal and abnormal, at the end of examinations. The pet owner then has permanent documentation of the visit, vaccination information, weight assessment, physical exam findings, test results, and medication recommendations, and knows when the next visit is due. This document is very helpful for reinforcing recommendations and findings long after the visit.
Ask yourself if this process happens at your veterinary visits, and if not, why not. Are you receiving “value” for your veterinary spending that will ultimately result in superior care for your pet’s health? Or, is your pet receiving a brief exam, if it is examined at all? Is your pet being vaccinated by a veterinary assistant who lacks higher training (or any training at all) without a thorough exam by a licensed veterinarian, and for a fee that is much lower than fees at other veterinary hospitals?
In veterinary medicine as in everything else in life, you will get what you pay. Do you want to take that risk with your pet’s health?
Dr. Bonnie Jones is co-owner of Delphos Animal Hospital which she operates with her husband, John H. Jones, DVM . The Drs. Jones just celebrated 25 years of providing “veterinary value” to their clients.