Get the Most Out of Your Vet Visit: 5 Hard Questions You Should Ask

Dog at Vet
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When discussing treatment options with your veterinarian, don't be afraid to ask them to help you outline the pros and cons of each plan.

People who work in veterinary medicine aren’t hard to understand. We’re motivated primarily by two things:

  1. We desperately want to figure out what is wrong with our sick patients and diagnose their problems.
  2. We passionately want pets to have the best quality of life or outcomes possible and offer the best standard of care that we can. That desire is what called most of us to scrubs and stethoscopes in the first place.

These “drives” are good — they mean we’re in this business for the right reasons. The problem, though, is that sometimes the time, energy, stress and money required to achieve our goals (to get the “right” diagnosis and provide the “gold standard” of care) may go beyond what pet owners wish for or are able to invest in when they are faced with health care situations with their pets. As with all things, pet health care is subject to financial realities and other considerations — and the reality is, you can’t always give a pet every single one of the latest and greatest treatments. That’s life.

Making a plan to deal with a pet’s health care issues means making choices. And if you’ve got to make a choice, you may as well fully understand your options. To ensure you have all the facts, you can do your part by asking your veterinarian these five questions:

1. What will we do with this information?

As I mentioned, veterinarians are trained to find answers. We tend to believe that knowledge is power and that information by itself is valuable. (Often this is true, but sometimes it’s not.) As a result, we frequently recommend additional tests or diagnostic options.

If a test doesn’t change the course of treatment or the prognosis, is it still worth doing? For example, let’s say we have a patient with cancer. If there were a test or procedure that would let us know whether we could expect the pet to live for only a month or for six months more, but it would not affect how we treated the patient, would you agree to it? What if it was very expensive?

I don’t think there’s a wrong answer to this question. I also don’t think veterinarians are wrong to recommend tests that provide more information without necessarily affecting treatment. Everyone approaches these situations a little differently, and veterinarians are in search of knowledge. That’s why asking, “What will we do with this information?” is important to help you as a pet owner make an empowered, informed decision.

2. What are the next steps?

Information is great, but understanding what you and your vet are going to do with the information is more important. There’s nothing wrong with asking your vet to explain, step by step, what the plan is. Asking for next steps is a great way to get peace of mind and a grip on how to move forward.

3.  Are there other options?

It is the job of a veterinarian to make recommendations about your pet’s health. Sometimes what a vet recommends is not feasible, affordable or ideal for your specific situation or perspective. That’s OK.

When your veterinarian makes a recommendation about treating your pet, it’s never wrong to ask what your other options are. The important thing you need to understand is the differences among options when your veterinarian lays them out for you. That’s why, whenever you ask this question, you must also ask…

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