Choosing a new vet in a new town

Moving is hard.  Finding your trusted service providers in your new area is harder!  With your veterinary team there is trust there — you’ve been THROUGH STUFF together, you’ve cried together, made tough decisions together, laughed at puppy and kitten antics together, and often they’ve watched your human kids grow up or been there when your mom died.  And in a new town you want someone that will be a guide, a friend, and a mentor.So how on earth do you find that again??

  • Start with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)  for their vet locator (https://www.aaha.org/pet_owner/about_aaha/hospital_search/default.aspx) .  While there are many great clinics that are not AAHA accredited, AAHA practices have chosen — even paid money — to be held to a higher standard of care.  Surprisingly, the standards the laws of the state to meet the minimal standards is not very high. For example, for Oregon it is about 4 pages with about 45 items to check off .   AAHA-accredited practices, on the other hand, are evaluated on over 900 standards, and regularly reevaluated ( every 3 years ) to ensure the standard of care is consistent. Currently in North America, there are just over 3900 AAHA Accredited practices, about 15% of all veterinary hospitals.  That makes an AAHA practice a good place to start.  Just because it is AAHA, doesn’t mean it will be a fit but it is a nice place to start
  • Ask friends, then consider.  If you know local people where you are moving, ask the ones that you see are crazy about their pets.  Take it as a piece of research but not gospel, most people who go to a below standard veterinarian have no idea it is substandard because they have no basis of comparison.
    Call clinics that you are considering and ask:

    • About diseases and parasites that are prominent in the area?
    • About alternative therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic?
    • Do they have a referral practice that they recommend for specialists?
    • Do they offer a wellness plan?

    The answers to these questions are important to suss out where the practice stands on the newest information in veterinary medicine and how well they train their team.  The “correct” answers are going to vary depending on your needs, but more importantly is the HOW they are answered. Did the receptionist know the answers? If not did she offer to find out?  Did he seem to care whether you got the answers that you needed? Did they offer to call you back with more information? If the person on the phone did not give you a good impression that is a red flag.  Remember, this is the person that will be relaying information to your doctor in the future, you want them to CARE!

    Ask if  they a Fear Free certified clinic.  Not every veterinary clinic is certified Fear Free, but they should be able to tell you what fear free techniques they are using in their clinic.  Fear Free is actually a brand, so the lack of certification is not a deal breaker, but every clinic should be able to readily tell you what they do to make your pet comfortable — give treats, use pheromones like Feliway on blankets, schedule longer first visits so they have the time for the pet to be comfortable, keep the pet with the owner and minimizing “taking to the back” are some good examples.  Not having Fear Free techniques should be a deal breaker. Veterinary medicine has long lost the days of wrestling a dog to the ground to get a nail trim. Look for these techniques: http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/top-10-ways-get-started-with-fear-free-veterinary-visits-sponsored-boehringer-ingelheim-vetmedica-in

    Ask if you can visit for a tour.  While this is an unusual request, it should always be met with an enthusiastic YES!  Veterinary teams should be proud to show you their clinic and what they do. Schedule a tour.  Everyone wants to know what goes on “in the back,” this is your chance. On your tour your should be comfortable asking questions and be understanding if they have to cancel due to emergencies.  Sometimes clinics get slammed and if your pet is the emergency, you sure would hope that a person on a tour would be understanding.

    Location matters:  Ideally your vet is close to home.  In an emergency, you don’t want to be driving across town in rush hour with a vomiting, bloody or pooping pet.

    What about reviews?   Reviews are a double edged sword for any business.  When do people write reviews? When they are over the top happy or over the top mad.  So reading reviews is helpful, but remember you don’t always know the whole story. Emotions run high with pets so bad reviews happen when things don’t go well.  Pay close attention to the consistencies like “the doctor really listened” or “every time I go we have to wait 30 minutes.” Use your best judgement, but definitely don’t base your decisions entirely on reviews.

    The bottom line when all is said and done,  did you LIKE the people?!  You don’t have to have all the fancy bells and whistles to be a good vet.  But you do have to have good communication skills and people who have good communication skills.  This team is going to help you make decisions about the health of your best friend — you want trust them personally and professionally.