Consumer guide to veterinary medicine

    Most pet owners view their pet as another member of their family and aim to provide their pet with the best care that will keep their pet as healthy and comfortable as possible and living for the greatest length of time. Just as in human medicine, the quality of the healthcare your pet receives can have a big impact on your pet's health. Unfortunately, many consumers, when comparing prices for veterinary care fail to consider what is actually being provided for the fees charged. The astute consumer realizes that quality and price are related, just as a meal at a fast-food restaurant costs less than a meal at a full-service establishment. In the same way, for example, the cheapest price for vaccines does not get your pet the best quality vaccine protection, the cheapest price for an examination does not get your pet the most thorough examination, and the cheapest spay/neuter does not provide your pet with the safest anesthesia and lowest risk of infection.
Does the veterinarian(s) of the practice attend continuing education classes to learn about new developments and changes in veterinary medicine?  Until recently, this was not a requirement in New York, but now continuing education is required.   Does the veterinarian simply meet the minumum requirements or does he/she go beyond the requirements?  Does the practice hold regular staff training meetings to ensure that the staff is knowledgable about the latest information in pet healthcare?
What kind of care to you want for your pet?
Questions to ask when deciding on a veterinary hospital
What does your veterinarian do to keep up-to date with the latest medical information?
Will the veterinarian and staff members take the time to answer my questions?
When my pet has a visit, will the veterinarian and his/her staff take the time to explain any problems my pet has and answer questions that I may have to my level of understanding?  Will my appointment be rushed, or will I be able to ask questions and if I have extensive questions will I be able to schedule additional consultation time with the doctor?  Will I be provided with any printed materials (brochures/handouts) to take home and review after the visit that will allow me to be able to further understand what was discussed at my pet's visit?
How are my pet's medical records kept?
Will my pet have it's own, individual record separate from all of my other pets?  Will the record, at least, be legibly handwritten with complete notations or, better still, will they be computerized medical records that are easily retreivable?  Will the staff or veterinarian record my pet's weight and vital signs regularly so that changes over time are documented and can be reviewed later?  Does the hospital have the capability of electronic transmission of records to specialists when referral is needed?
What are the infection control measures of your hospital?
Is the hospital kept clean and relatively odor free? (understanding that dealing with animals, occasional odor is unavoidable)  Is a new needle and syringe used for each injection for each patient, or are the syringes washed and reused?  Is there an area where pets with known contagious disease can be isolated from other pets that are in the hospital?  Is a new, clean cover used on the thermometer when a pet's temperature is taken?  Is a new, sterile gown and new pair of sterile gloves used for each surgical procedure?  Do all pets that have surgery receive antibiotics, or only non-routine or complicated cases where appropriate?
What is your vaccine protocol?
Not all vaccines are the same, and some are known to have higher incidence of reactions and some are not as effective.  Vaccines should only be given to healthy individuals at the appropriate age and timeframe.  Does your vet require a recent examination before administering vaccines to assure each patient is of appropriate health status and age?  Do the hospital use the latest vaccine technology, such as recombinant vaccines?  Do the hospital tailor the vaccines a pet receives to match that pet's needs, based on it's individual risk factors?
What types of investments has your hospital made in up-to-date technology and equipment?
Does the hospital have in-house laboratory machines for routine types of blood and urine testing to allow for rapid results?  Does the hospital have a Tonopen to measure eye pressures?  Does the hospital have a laser to use for surgery so there is less bleeding, reduced swelling, reduced pain and reduced chance of infection?  Does the hospital have electronic monitors to assist in monitoring vital signs when patients are under anesthesia?  If a patient is hospitalized and requires intravenous fluids, is an electronic pump used to regulate the flow and amount of fluids?  While pets are under anesthesia and recovering from anesthesia, are supplemental warming devices used (heated water or air warming)?  Does the hospital have an onsite x-ray machine and the ability to send digital images to specialists, if referral is needed?  Does the hospital use computers and have internet access to use for record keeping and client education?