Whether you are moving to a new area, your current veterinarian has retired, or you’ve just adopted a new pet, finding a veterinary hospital that suits your needs can be time consuming. The American Animal Hospital Association has developed a set of questions you can ask to make the process of finding a new vet easier on you and less stressful for your pet. Here, we give you some reasons why you will want to ask those questions before booking a first appointment.
- “Can you request an appointment with a certain veterinarian?” While there may be emergency situations in which you might not be able to get a specific veterinarian, it is a good idea to build a relationship with one specific doctor. The ability to request appointments with a certain veterinarian not only ensures your pet meets with the veterinarian of your choosing, but also allows the veterinarian to build a stable relationship with your pet—which your pet will appreciate, especially as going to the veterinarian can be a scary experience for many pets.
- “Do you have a large network of specialists if needed?” This is important for the possibility that your pet might need specialty care—orthopedic or emergency, for example—or if you have a pet with specialty needs—such as those that can be met by an avian, aquatic, or reptile specialist. While veterinarians can deal with a broad variety of issues in many kinds of animals, they sometimes need to refer a pet to someone who specializes in a particular ailment, treatment, species, or breed. When a veterinary hospital has a large network of specialists, it is easier to obtain necessary appointments and care more quickly.
- “What is your telephone policy?” Sometimes you really want to speak with your veterinarian. In those cases, you should be able to leave a message for the doctor which he or she can return later. In other cases, the veterinary hospital should have staff on hand who can answer questions about your pet in an informed manner—or who at least can tell if it would be best for you to come in, or if the veterinarian should get in touch with you first.
- “What is your response to emergencies?” Nobody wants to have to deal with a pet-related emergency, but it is good practice to understand your veterinary hospital’s emergency response before something serious happens. You will want to know whether or not your hospital would be able to see your pet right away or within a couple of days. If something happens outside of business hours, you should know if the veterinary hospital has an emergency helpline, or if it recommends an emergency animal hospital that is open with extended hours.
- “How long should I have to wait to schedule a routine appointment?” If you routinely have to wait more than two weeks at a time to get your pet in to see his or her doctor, then you might want to find a new veterinary hospital. Your pet should be able to see a veterinarian for routine care anywhere from a couple of days to a week after you call in for an appointment.
- “What types of payment methods do you offer?” This is a question you will want to have answered before you take your pet in for a visit. If the clinic only takes cash, you would need to have enough cash on hand to pay for the visit and any medications or tests that are done that day. If they don’t take checks, or only accept certain credit cards, you need to be sure you have the preferred method of payment. For situations in which a pet needs a major medical procedure, you may also want to see if the hospital can create a payment plan or if it takes pet insurance.
- “Do you have an email system where I can schedule appointments and ask questions?” Similar to our own doctors increasingly using online tools to help us keep track of our appointments and care from home, many veterinary hospitals now also use online services to contact pet owners, allow appointment scheduling, respond to questions, and keep records of a pet’s care and treatment regimen. Find out if your new veterinary hospital has such a system, and if so, how to log on.
Aside from these important questions, the American Animal Hospital Association also recommends you choose a veterinary hospital that is AAHA accredited, meaning it is a member of the association and is held to a set of stringent standards of veterinary care. For more information about those standards, check out the AAHA website.