When Kathy Whitlock’s 19-year-old cat required major surgery in 2006, Kathy was asked to sign a consent form before the operation was scheduled. She was not surprised by the request — consent forms are standard procedure at AAHA-accredited Yelm Veterinary Hospital in Washington State — and Whitlock says reading and discussing the form made her feel better about her pet’s upcoming operation.
“I’m very particular about my animals and the care they receive,” Whitlock says. “The form described the procedure, lab work options, and take home care. Even though I’ve been going to the same veterinary hospital for about 30 years and understand the process, [a member of] the office staff sat down and reviewed the form with me. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and I understood my options.”
Consent forms are an everyday occurrence in human hospitals and some people believe they should be an essential part of veterinary medicine as well.
“Usually pet owners hear only about 25 to 40 percent of what a veterinarian says when medical procedures are discussed,” says James Wilson, DVM, JD, who wrote "Legal Consents for Veterinary Practices". “The beauty of consent forms is that they prompt pet owners to ask questions.”
“My advice to pet owners is to read forms carefully and ask questions. The big thing, really, is to ask questions. It may seem daunting, but your pet’s life may be at stake. It’s an important issue.”
– Kathy Whitlock, pet owner
This is particularly beneficial during emergencies, complex procedures, or when there are multiple medical options to consider.
Consent forms provide “an opportunity to visualize the issues, procedures and side effects, to understand costs and necessary follow-up care, and to ask questions before authorizing treatment,” Wilson says. “Pet owners have a better understanding of what to expect of the veterinarian and of what’s required of [them.]”
Consent forms that outline procedures trigger questions for pet owners, who might be nervous or intimidated by medical jargon, says Karl Salzsieder, DVM, JD, owner of Yelm Veterinary Hospital.
“A consent form is an invitation to ask questions and learn what’s going on,” he adds. “Ours explain what we’re going to do and they describe common risks, estimated outcomes, and alternative therapies.”
After her recent experience, Whitlock believes consent forms provide one more way for caring pet owners to ensure their pets’ well-being.
"My advice to pet owners is to read forms carefully and ask questions,” Whitlock says. “The big thing, really, is to ask questions. It may seem daunting, but your pet’s life may be at stake. It’s an important issue.”
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 1, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.