By Terri Johnson, MSS, CVT
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is an international association with membership of more than 42,000 veterinary care providers across the United States and Canada. AAHA is a non-regulatory, independent association dedicated to helping members provide high-quality, excellent care for companion animals.
Furthermore, AAHA is the only organization that accredits veterinary hospitals throughout North America and Canada. Accreditation is not mandatory, and in fact, only 12% of veterinary hospitals are currently AAHA-accredited. The AAHA accreditation standards are considered the highest standards in companion animal care and are routinely reviewed and updated to ensure they remain consistent with advances in veterinary medicine.
AAHA accreditation is an evaluation process that veterinarians, practice managers and the entire practice teams voluntarily choose to go through. It’s an in-depth process that encompasses many aspects of successfully running and managing a veterinary practice. AAHA accreditation standards provide a guide for helping veterinary practices be the best they can be in providing excellent patient care, client service and in creating a team environment. While the AAHA standards do not tell veterinarians how to practice medicine, they help the entire team create, follow and continually improve processes that help them function as a cohesive team, and to be prepared for nearly any situation, including any emergency that might occur in a veterinary hospital.This in-depth evaluation process encompasses around 900 standards of excellence including standards in these categories:
AAHA-accredited members are dedicated to continuous improvement and strive for accreditation for many reasons. Here’s what a few AAHA-accredited members have said:
- High-quality patient care and services in the areas of anesthesia, preventing and containing contagious diseases, dentistry, emergency and critical care, pain management, patient care, surgery, and maintaining detailed and thorough medical records
- Providing high-quality client service
- Business and hospital management—human resources, continuing education, leadership, safety, housekeeping and maintenance
- Diagnostic testing—laboratory, radiology, advanced testing and/or referral to a specialist
Many veterinarians say that becoming an AAHA-accredited practice has been a goal for many years and believe that the level of care that AAHA accreditation promotes is something all veterinary hospitals should strive to achieve. AAHA-accredited practices are required to maintain their accreditation by being re-evaluated every 2–3 years. Only 12% of the practices in the United States and Canada choose to take this advanced step and voluntarily seek accreditation. Here are some things accredited members value about the actual evaluation:
- "By being an AAHA practice we are able to legitimately inform clients about the level of medicine we practice. Human hospitals are evaluated similarly but all hospitals must comply. It is important to let pet owners know that only a small percentage of veterinary hospitals live up to the AAHA standards."
- "AAHA accreditation is important to me because it makes me practice better veterinary medicine. It keeps our practice on its ‘toes’ so that we are aware of the up-to-date changes in the field. It gives the hospital staff members a feeling that we are providing service with excellence."
- "AAHA is my test... because I am a solo practitioner, we need AAHA as a measure of our success. It would be very easy to become complacent without checks and balances and AAHA provides that for us. It also motivates our staff and makes them cognizant of how we can improve our patient care and services."
- "We want to be one step above the ordinary. Our practice was good before, but better now for having gone through AAHA accreditation."
- "We feel that it is great to have standards to ‘live up to’ to help ensure that we are doing our very best in all areas. It is nice to have a set of outside eyes see how we operate because sometimes we can't see our own faults or ways to improve. We feel that being accredited adds value to our customer service."
- "Going through the accreditation process is not just about quality of care for our patients. The AAHA standards also guide us to improve care for our patient’s family, as well as all the staff."
- "Accreditation and the evaluation has made us a better hospital just by requiring us to hold ourselves to a higher standard."
- "We are proud to be accredited members and appreciate having a way to effectively evaluate how we practice medicine, and learn about what improvements we need to make, and how to make them. Providing the best possible care and service is our top priority and AAHA standards provide a wonderful road map to success."
The state of Alabama recognizes AAHA accreditation at such a high level that practices that are AAHA-accredited are not required to go through a state inspection. "The Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medicine’s decision reaffirms that AAHA’s 900-plus standards set a high standard for how animal hospitals should be run," says Dr. Kate Knutson, AAHA’s president.
"I am so pleased that Alabama recognizes the rigorous nature and the standard of medical excellence required to meet the AAHA accreditation standards," she says. "The 900-plus standards of AAHA go above and beyond any state's mandated regulations." Other types of veterinary and animal institutions are also AAHA-accredited. These institutions understand the importance of adhering to guidelines and processes that help them provide excellent care and help them be the best they can be. These include:
- U.S. military bases that train and provide care for military working dogs
- Veterinary universities and veterinary teaching hospitals
- Veterinary technician schools
- Animal shelters and humane societies
- Service dog training organizations
And veterinary institutions and groups from all over the world have expressed interest in the AAHA Standards of Accreditation. Your AAHA-accredited veterinary team strives to provide the best possible care for you and your pet. Ask your veterinary practice team what it means to them to be AAHA-accredited.
Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/©Catherine Yeulet