Updated: Feb 16, 2019
Veterinarians are a community of individuals that often share very similar personality traits. On top of being highly motivated individuals, we have a deep desire to care for pets and are passionate in helping pet owners maximize their pet's quality of life by determining accurate diagnoses and offering what we call "best medicine" or "gold standard" diagnostics and treatment. The gold standard is a plan of care approach that benefits the pet in the best way possible. With that being said, there are many obstacles that stand in the way when it comes to providing the gold standard.
The Gold Standard
Every year in veterinary medicine, the progress made in veterinary medicine leads to more advanced diagnostics and treatments that we can offer to our clients. Unfortunately, these often come with a hefty price tag. While we would love to give every pet the gold standard, often times it's not feasible due to the sizable financial investment. Sadly, this is the harsh reality for many pet owners.
But wait, I have good news for you! You, the pet owner, have more control over the situation than you might think. Your pet's health takes a joint effort between you and the veterinarian. Our job is to make sure you understand what options are available in any situation and your job is to communicate any questions or concerns that affect both you and your pet. Here are 5 questions you should be asking your vet.
1. What will we do with this information?
First and foremost, as a veterinarian, it is our job to offer the gold standard diagnostic
and treatment plan. We are taught to never assume someone cannot afford it. Imagine if we assumed you couldn't afford the gold standard and we offered something less and your pet did not get better. How would you feel? How would your pet feel? We would have done your pet a disservice at that point.
It's okay if you cannot afford the gold standard! Trust me, you are not alone. By asking "What will we do with this information?", it helps you and the veterinarian develop the best plan based on your budget. If the veterinarian wants to run a specific diagnostic test, ask "how that would affect the treatment plan?" If it doesn't affect the treatment plan then is it still worth doing? Ultimately, that is your decision.
Let me be clear about something: I don't think it's wrong of a veterinarian to recommend tests even if it won't change the treatment plan. It is our duty to gather as much information as we can about your pet, and in return, provide you with as much information as possible so that you can make the most informed decision.
2. What are the next steps?
Gathering all the information from tests is great. Now we have a much better idea of what is going on. Whats next? Make sure you are clear on what the step-by-step plan is for your pet. This will most certainly offer you peace of mind. We're talking about your fur baby here. It's your responsibility to know what is happening every step of the way.
3. What are my other options?
Another aspect of the vet's responsibility is to make recommendations to you based on the information we have gathered from our diagnostics. As mentioned before, we are going to offer you the gold standard approach first. If you can make this investment, great! If you cannot, that's okay too. Now is your chance to ask your veterinarian about other options. Once you know all your alternatives, then you can proceed to the next question.
4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?
After establishing all your options, you need to know the pros and cons of each. Treatment plans can run the gamut and it's important to understand that each option has a specific price and certain features. Lets use cars as an example: buying a Ford (I can use this because I drive a Ford) versus buying a Ferrari. Both vehicles will vary in price as well as the features that come with the car. The Ferrari will likely have more advanced features but those features will come at a increased cost.
I am not saying that the quality of care is going to be different if you choose a cheaper treatment plan. That is simply not true. The same quality of care should be present regardless of the treatment plan.
Be honest and upfront with your vet about your budget. Trust me, we spend the better part of our day customizing treatment plans for pet owner's budgets. We are good at it. Often times we can see that finances may be better used in one area more than another to still achieve a positive outcome for the pet. Balance the benefits and drawbacks of each option and make the best decision for you and your pet.
5. What would you do if this was your pet?
I will be the first to admit, I don't like when I get this question. Many veterinarians are uncomfortable answering this question as well. In a way, we feel like we may be influencing your decision one way or the other. You need to understand one thing: your veterinarian is not you and you are not them. We likely have different limitations when it comes to caring for our pets.
Example: A veterinarian is likely able to handle a more complicated home care plan versus many pet owners. We certainly may feel more comfortable handling certain situations despite the severity. Veterinarians have more resources at their finger tips than pet owners.
While we may be comfortable in certain situations, we do not want to push you into any situation you aren't comfortable managing. On the other hand, it is our job to be honest with you about how we would approach things if it were our pet. Do not be surprised if your veterinarian is reluctant to answer this question.
Communication, Communication, Communication
At the end of the day, communication between you and your pet's veterinarian is the key to a successful outcome. Sure, these questions are quite detailed and will require some time and effort for your veterinarian to answer. That's ok! We would rather you ask questions than not. Your pet's health is a team effort so we need to be on the same team.
Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM