The primary goal of collaborative veterinary care is to promote and advocate for the patient’s best interest, but the referral process can sometimes result in less-than-desirable outcomes if relationships between primary and referral veterinarians are strained. Tension is mainly because of confusion over which veterinarian is responsible for patient or client care tasks during the referral process, and poor communication between practices.
To establish clear roles and expectations for each veterinarian during the referral process, AAHA in 2013 developed official guidelines for referral and consultation to provide a framework for healthy referral relationships by establishing an ethical division of responsibilities. Primary care veterinarians can now feel more confident about turning their patient’s care over to another individual.
The VESPECON team recognizes the importance of establishing universal care standards. Here are a few takeaway points from the AAHA guidelines that can help you improve your specialty practice.
#1: Get the word out ahead of time
Veterinary specialists have unique strengths, service offerings, preferences, and communication styles. Ensuring your referral network knows this information not only markets your practice, but also provides primary veterinarians with all the information needed to facilitate a smooth referral. Distributing referral forms—electronically through an email list, posted on your website, or hard copies mailed or delivered by hand—is one simple method. The forms communicate your preferences while also collecting needed case information. Whether you choose to use the forms or another communication method, consider including the following information:
- Services offered
- Whether you offer “a la carte” imaging or specialized diagnostics
- Basic fee schedule
- What to expect during the first visit
- Pre-visit preparation instructions
- Which records you require, and the preferred format
#2: Support the referring veterinarian by limiting services
One of the key points in AAHA’s guidelines is that specialist veterinarians should limit their services to the problem for which the patient was referred, which helps preserve the primary veterinarian’s relationship with the client and emphasizes their importance. Additional services in the patient’s best interest can be performed—but only after consulting with the primary veterinarian. For example, if a young patient is scheduled for surgery at your facility but is showing sudden UTI signs, you should contact the rDVM to discuss whether the surgery should go forward, if you should send out a urinalysis, or if the patient should visit the primary veterinarian before you perform surgery. The answers will depend on the rDVM’s preference and availability, which will likely vary from day to day.
#3: Communicate promptly and completely with referring veterinarians
Prompt, thorough communication is the foundation for good referral relationships. AAHA states that specialist veterinarians should send after-visit communications before the client has a reason to contact the rDVM, to facilitate consistent client messaging. Clear communication also includes:
- Daily updates for hospitalized patients
- The need for referral to additional specialists
- When and how to transfer care back to the rDVM
- Treatment sheets and discharge instructions for immediate care transfers
#4: Establish follow-up care guidelines
The specialist veterinarian is responsible for determining a follow-up care timeline, communicating that plan in detail to the primary veterinarian, and deciding who will provide needed services. Specialist follow-up should be limited to services the rDVM cannot reasonably provide—the rDVM can take care of routine needs, including blood work, medication refills, and routine recheck examinations. Both the client and the rDVM must understand the plan, and the circumstances when they should contact the specialist regarding patient status changes.
#5: Promote the benefits of a team approach to care
Throughout the referral experience, clients should get the impression that each veterinarian is working together toward a common patient goal, and each has a unique role in their pet’s health. As a specialist veterinarian, you should promote the rDVM’s abilities and encourage clients to return to them for ongoing, non-specialty care, and convey your mutual respect.
Joining VESPECON as a referral specialist simplifies the referral process for clients and rDVMs, who first consult with our virtual team before visiting an in-person specialist. This step-wise approach helps clients understand the referral process, and how each veterinarian on their pet’s team works together.
Specialists who join VESPECON’s network benefit from access to a larger referral network, and enjoy improved communications with referring veterinarians that help you uphold and embody AAHA’s referral guidelines. Learn more about VESPECON’s advantages for your practice, or sign up here to get started.