Communicating With Vet
It should come as no surprise that one of the biggest challenges for veterinarians — both the newly graduated and the experienced — is communication. After all, it’s another of those areas we share with our colleagues in human medicine, where communication (and the lack of it) has long been an issue.

We all recognize the central point: Someone can be the best doctor in the world, but if he can’t communicate with his patients, his skills won’t be put to their best use.

Your Commitment

As a patient, you have a responsibility to hold up your end of the ongoing conversation with your doctor; as a pet owner you need to do your part to work with your family’s veterinarian and — most important — speak for your pet. My colleague Dr. Nancy Kay has written two wonderful books on how to be your pet’s advocate, and I can’t recommend them enough.

In my experience, the best relationship is one built on mutual respect and trust. And while you and your veterinarian won’t always agree, your pet won’t suffer as a result if you truly are working within the framework of a partnership. While one of the ingredients of that partnership is time, the other is communication. Here are three strategies you can use with any veterinarian, even when you’re at the emergency clinic, to open those lines of discussion and best help your pet.

Tips for Talking

Take money off the table … for a moment. Trust me when I tell you that your veterinarian knows money is an issue. Money is always an issue, even in good economic times. But when you tell your pet’s doctor that no matter what the problem is you can only spend a certain amount on treatment, you are at best limiting the discussion of treatment options and at worst limiting the odds of your pet’s survival. It’s not wrong to pass on treatments you cannot afford. It is wrong not to allow yourself to know about them.

Ask about all the options … for discussion, at least. Again, you need all the information you can get to make the best decision for you and your pet. Even if you’re not ever going to approve an MRI, radiation treatment or a total hip replacement, you deserve to know if they’re available or advisable. It’s not about putting yourself in a position to feel guilty about saying no, if you choose to; it’s about having the knowledge to make the best possible decision. Knowledge is power, and your best decisions will be made if you have all the information you can get. And yes, that includes seeking second opinions and doing your own research with good pet-care books and reputable Internet sites.

Discuss timing and priorities … then set them. I no longer act nice and agree with pet owners who believe that their animals don’t need care when I know they do. What I do instead is make the recommendations I feel obligated to as a veterinarian and a lifelong animal lover, and then work with a pet’s owner to determine how best to get great care for a pet. My mantra is “everything your pet needs and only what your pet needs,” and I openly discuss how to schedule that care over time to get it all accomplished. It’s at this point that the cost of these options can be honestly discussed, when everything is on the table.

You are an advocate for your pet, and your veterinarian is too. I won’t deny that there can be friction between vets and pet owners. But I absolutely believe that if you allow your veterinarian to do her job of recommending treatment options, and you do yours in making the best, most well-informed decisions about those options, your pet will get the very best care.

And that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

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