Determining the best time to refer veterinary patients to a specialist is not always easy or straightforward. Sometimes the need is clear, such as cases requiring advanced imaging, surgery, or procedures you’ve never performed. Other cases seem manageable at first, but may benefit from referral if the patient no longer responds to treatment or their condition becomes chronic and recurrent, or when clients request a second opinion. Many primary veterinarians wait too long to refer because they want to spare their client the inconvenience and expense, or because they fear their own practice will lose revenue. 

Preventing client frustration by referring earlier in a disease course can actually improve practice revenue, because better case outcomes mean confident, loyal clients who will continue to return for pet care and will personally recommend your practice to other clientele. VESPECON’s services help to make specialty care more accessible, thereby reducing client frustration and helping you retain more happy clients.

The client frustration tipping point

 An American College of Veterinary Dermatology (ACVD) client survey showed that clients reach a frustration “tipping point” if their pet’s issue is not resolved after three veterinary visits, or after spending $925 on care. After this point, clients lose faith in the practice’s ability to care for their pets—15% don’t come back for routine care, and 38% won’t return for illness care. These unhappy clients not only take their money elsewhere, but also can damage your reputation with negative personal or public reviews. 

Benefits to early specialist referral

Referring cases early prevents clients from reaching their tipping point, provides better case outcomes, and financially benefits the practice. The ACVD study found that:

  • 27% of referred cases were resolved in a single visit.
  • 73% of clients reached the tipping point prior to referral (43%) or second rDVM opinion (31%). 
  • Clients referred after the tipping point averaged five rDVM visits, followed by 3.8 DACVD visits. These clients could have saved 25% in total costs with earlier referral.
  • 82% of clients referred after the tipping point said they would have been more confident in their rDVM had they referred sooner.

While dermatology case statistics may not transfer across all specialties, this survey illustrates how clients feel about referral and how quickly they can lose faith in veterinarians who fail to solve their pet’s problem. A third of the surveyed clients who reached their tipping point left the practice to seek a second opinion, and likely did not return. Earlier referrals could have retained these clients, and increased long-term revenue. The large majority who wished their veterinarian had offered a referral sooner indicates that clients want to know about their options and make their own informed decisions.

Examples from the research

The Collaborative Care Coalition (CCC) conducted a retrospective study on chronic, proliferative otitis that confirmed previous findings—patients under collaborative care had better outcomes in fewer visits, with the best outcomes in cases referred sooner than later. The study showed:

  • 43% of dogs had complete otitis resolution with collaborative care versus none in the primary care group.
  • In dogs whose otitis recurred, time to recurrence was 171 days with collaborative care versus 21 days under primary care.
  • Proliferative changes improved in 91% of collaborative care cases versus 13% in primary care.
  • Cases referred within six months of treatment onset had the best overall outcomes.

Chronic otitis is only one example of many chronic conditions often managed solely by a primary care veterinarian, when early referral frequently can resolve the problem more efficiently.

How VESPECON can help

Referring sooner can improve your patient outcomes, and VESPECON makes referral easier. When you join VESPECON as a primary practitioner, we offer fingertip access to our virtual consulting specialists who will guide you through case management for individual patients. Our multidisciplinary team works together to help you develop a diagnostic and treatment plan that works for you and your client. We can see what you see in real time, and we provide continued consultation throughout your patient’s treatment, helping you gain new knowledge and tools to help you treat future patients more effectively.

Our services elevate care for clients who cannot travel, have financial limitations, or simply prefer to exhaust all options before pursuing referral, allowing you to manage their pets more effectively in-house. For patients who need in-person referral, our concierge team can facilitate the transfer and secure your patient a timely spot.

Early referral can prevent clients from reaching the frustration tipping point and save them money, which increases their confidence and loyalty to your practice. VESPECON makes referral more accessible for all clients, including those unwilling to travel or unable to afford specialty care. Visit our website to learn more about our services, or sign up to get started.