TERRI JOHNSON, AAHA PRACTICE ACCREDITATION
Areas of Specialties
- Anesthesiology (DACVA)
- Behavior (DACVB)
- Cardiology (DACVIM)
- Dentistry (DAVDC)
- Dermatology (DACVD)
- Emergency and Critical Care (DACVECC)
- Internal Medicine - Neurology (DACVIM)
- Internal Medicine - Oncology (DACVIM)
- Internal Medicine - Small Animal (DACVIM)
- Ophthalmology (DACVO)
- Radiology (DACVR)
- Surgery (DACVS)
- Feline (DABVP)
- Avian (DABVP)
- Feline and canine (DABVP)
Finding out that your pet has an illness or disease is hard. Our pets can get many of the diseases that we get. And, just like human medicine, there are veterinary specialists who have additional education and expertise in certain areas. Your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist if your pet has a specific illness or needs special tests to make a diagnosis, if they need surgery or even if they may need a behavioral consultation (see sidebar to the left).
A referral practice is one that specializes in one or more specific areas of veterinary medicine. An AAHA-accredited referral practice is required to have a board-certified veterinary specialist on staff. In addition to graduating from veterinary school, a board-certified specialist has completed several additional years in an internship and residency program and passed rigorous training and testing. The AAHA standards include a section on referring patients to veterinary specialists. These standards help ensure good communication between you, your veterinarian and the specialist.
You may be referred to a specialist for additional testing, or you may have had some testing done at your regular veterinarian and are going to the specialist for an additional consultation and/or diagnosis. The specialist may require additional tests to determine your pet’s diagnosis and the next steps.
When a referral is appropriate, the best medicine is delivered through collaboration between your AAHA-accredited hospital’s team and board-certified specialists. You can trust that your AAHA-accredited hospital will refer you to someone who will care for your pet and provide quality health care options that meet the same high standards of care they stand for.
A referral to a specialist may happen for a number of reasons, but it always starts because your veterinarian wants to make sure your pet is getting the best care possible. Your veterinarian may want additional information based on a specialist’s knowledge and expertise.
Christina McCarthy’s 10-year-old cat Jack was starting to have some problems. “He was throwing up about 3-4 times a week for a couple weeks. Other than that, his energy level and appetite were completely fine and we didn’t notice any change in his behavior.” Christina took Jack to see their regular veterinarian, Dr. Donna Valori at Table Mountain Veterinary Clinic in Golden, Colo. Dr. Valori recommended and ran some blood tests along with a few other tests.
Christina and Jack
“When the doctor called the next day, she said his blood work came back highly unusual and she believed he had a form of leukemia. It was a complete shock to my husband Eric and me because besides the throwing up, Jack seemed like his normal self.”
Christina and Eric scheduled an appointment to talk with Dr. Valori right away. “She provided an explanation of the type of cancer she thought Jack may have and answered any questions she could. She also told us that cats do a great job of hiding pain and gave us a list of other signs to watch for in Jack’s behavior while we waited for more accurate test results.”
Dr. Valori referred Jack to Dr. Robin Elmslie, an oncologist at the VRCC Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in Denver, Colo. “It never crossed my mind that he had developed a serious disease, so when Dr. Valori first told me Jack had cancer, I didn’t know what to do,” Christina said. “I didn’t have any experience with anything like this and I was really worried about Jack.”
Your veterinarian and your veterinary specialist work together with you as a team to determine what the best next steps are for your pet. Christina said being referred to an oncologist was scary because, “I didn’t know what to expect when I went to the specialty practice. But then I saw photos and memorials of other animals posted on the walls throughout the practice. Reading these put me at ease and helped me realize that they would see Jack as more than just a pet.”
Dr. Elmslie diagnosed Jack as having chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a form of blood cancer. She prescribed medication and recommended a plan of treatment. “Dr. Elmslie explained every step of the treatment plan and talked in terms I could understand,” Christina said.
Jack returned to Dr. Valori for implementation of the treatment plan and to monitor his progress. Jack receives a monthly blood test to make sure his overall health and immune system are good. Both Dr. Valori and Dr. Elmslie continue to monitor Jack’s response to therapy and treatment. “Jack was really unhappy taking medication every day, so the doctors were able to change the dosage,” Christina said. “That really helped make things easier and he’s adjusted well to being pilled every other day.”
Christina said, “Eric and I were both devastated when we heard Jack’s diagnosis, but we found great comfort in finding the best treatment team for Jack between Dr. Valori and Dr. Elmslie and the staffs at Table Mountain Veterinary Clinic and the VRCC. We both feel fortunate to have found such a dedicated, caring and communicative team to help Jack and both of us through his treatment.”
A year after beginning his cancer therapy treatment, Jack is doing well and recently celebrated his 11th birthday.
Referral hospitals are not a substitute for your regular veterinarian and usually do not offer many of the important and crucial services your regular veterinarian provides. It’s very important to have your pet regularly examined by your veterinarian who knows your pet and can assess the need for specialty services. Patients are most often accepted only through a referral process, and your regular veterinarian’s input is critical to the diagnosis and treatment of your pet. Referral practices are an extension of general practices and maintain a close relationship with your regular veterinarian. The veterinarians work together and provide regular reports to you and to each other about your pet’s condition.
If your pet is diagnosed with a more serious illness or problem, you as the client may also ask for a second opinion if you feel that additional testing or more information would be helpful. AAHA-accredited veterinarians work together to make sure your questions are answered and to provide the best possible care and treatment plans for your pet.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter November / December 2011, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2011 AAHA. Find out more.