All veterinarians and support staff share a common goal—improving the health and welfare of the animals in their care. Achieving this shared goal requires collaboration from veterinarians across all disciplines, and requires primary care and specialty veterinarians to work closely together to support their clients’ and patients’ best interests. Despite this, some general practice veterinarians are reluctant to refer or unsure of the best timing, which leads to client frustration, prolonged treatment courses, and poor case outcomes. 

Specialty referral can help you elevate patient care and instill loyalty when clients experience positive case outcomes with fewer veterinary visits. Despite the higher costs of specialty visits, clients can save money in the long run, and pets who live longer can bring your practice more revenue. Generally, treating referrals quickly offers the best outcomes, but crossing the line into referral territory isn’t always clearly defined. However, VESPECON’s consulting services can provide clarity with individual cases, and we offer a few guidelines to help you know when to start thinking about referral.

#1: When diagnosis is unclear

If you’ve run all the appropriate diagnostics but can’t figure out a patient’s problem, or don’t know which tests to run next, referral is the next logical option. Be honest with your client why you feel referral is best, so they understand that you are not spending their money on tests or treatments that may not be helpful. Your client will appreciate your honesty, your willingness to accept help in their pet’s best interest, and that you are keeping their budget in mind.

Some conditions require definitive diagnosis prior to treatment. A good example is lymphoma—if you start your patient on steroids, assuming they have an infection or inflammatory condition, but then find your patient has lymphoma, oncology diagnostics and treatments are now of limited use. Getting a definitive diagnosis or ruling out potentially serious conditions before treatment can prevent client disappointment.

#2: When patients get worse or fail to improve

If you know what you’re treating, but traditional treatment options are not successful, consider referral before trying a treatment that is unproven or an expensive last-resort. A veterinary specialist’s knowledge and experience can narrow down differentials and spend the client’s dollars on the most valuable and rewarding tests or treatments.

#3: When your patient has a better prognosis with referral

Studies indicate many conditions have better outcomes when managed by primary and specialty veterinarians together, rather than only the primary veterinarian. These patients live longer, and have better treatment outcomes and fewer recurrences. You may be capable of handling most cases, including chronic skin or ear disease, heart disease, or surgical conditions, but these patients often fare better in a specialist’s hands.

#4: When you lack appropriate equipment or skills

When your patient needs advanced imaging or the equipment for specialized procedures, referral is clearly indicated. Examples include cataract surgery, orthopedic surgery, severe IVDD, or radiation treatments. An unstable hospitalized or postoperative patient who needs intensive ICU care is another clear referral example. 

#5: Before your client becomes frustrated

Knowing when to call a specialist for extra help can save your clients long-term frustration, keep them loyal and bonded to the practice, and build trust. The average client loses faith and becomes frustrated with a practice when their pet has not progressed after three visits, or they have spent $900 to $1,000. Learn to recognize when cases stall and recommend referral before the client reaches this point.

The value of telemedicine consulting

When you recognize the need and recommend a referral to your client, barriers including time, cost, or distance may keep them from accepting. With a telemedicine consultation through VESPECON, you can collaborate with a specialist virtually to elevate your patient’s care while keeping the case in-house. Our team is available on-demand for video chat consultations, so we can see your patient in real time, discuss your findings, ask the right questions, and develop the best possible treatment plan. For cases whose referral timing is unclear, you can consult with our team to determine an appropriate timeline based on patient response and client willingness.

VESPECON offers a complete solution for all your consultation and referral needs. Contact our team to learn more about our concierge services, and start on the path to better patient care and happier clients.