Most of what a veterinarian does everyday, at least in routine practice, is to communicate. We talk, and talk, and talk sometimes. Hopefully, we’re saying something useful, particularity relating to a pet or pets. That having been said, there are a number of questions that you, as a pet owner, should be asking your veterinarian, if they are not volunteering the information readily. The list below is not comprehensive. But, in my experience these are the items most pet owners are asking themselves, but not verbalizing to me. These are the questions that, when I offer the answers, clients are most receptive to and appreciative of. So, here we go….
How was the physical exam? We always try to verbalize our findings as we perform the physical exam. In some cases we may wait until the end of the exam before recapping, but you should always get a summary of the doctor’s exam findings. Along with the history of the patient’s symptoms, the exam findings form the foundation for not only the client/patient/doctor relationship, but also the formation of a diagnosis and treatment plan
What tests were performed, what do they tell us, and what were the results? Too often, pet owners hear “blood test” and process nothing more about the importance of the tests or the significance of the findings. We like to go over all of the tests results with customers. If results are ready before the end of the appointment, we will go over these in the exam room; otherwise we will call to discuss results. Even normal results are discussed, if for no other reason than to confirm that the parameters being tested are of no health concern
Why are these medications being prescribed? How long should I give the medication, and should I refill the medication? Believe it or not, as a profession, we frequently and easily fall down on this point. It’s easy to hand over some pills, say “give these for 2 weeks” and escort the client from the room. As doctors we try to explain what the medication is (to the best of our ability), what to expect as the result of giving it, when to expect results, what to do after the medication has had its effect, and what to do after finishing the medication. Whether we realize it or not, it isn’t always obvious to the pet owner that antibiotics are given for a specific time frame, then discontinued, or that arthritis medication is meant to be given and refilled indefinitely since arthritis does not resolve or go away.
Are there side effects to medicine? Big issue here. I fail at this regularly enough, despite being cognizant of the need to improve. Pet owners do not intuitively know what side effects of given medications might be. Yes, the internet can be a source of this information, but we need to be mentioning the most common side effects, and if you don’t hear them, as a pet owner, from your veterinarian, ask.
What should I expect? When should we evaluate progress? Should we recheck in the office or consult by phone? Rechecks are often critical to treatment success, regardless of the condition being treated. Infections need to be evaluated so that we know if the prescribed course of antibiotics was enough or is an additional 2 weeks of antibiotics needed. Same can be said for long-term medications – we need to be sure the desired effects continue, and often we need to make sure the long-term medications are not causing unwanted effects on the liver/kidneys, or other systems
What if things get worse? Here again, communication is key. If your veterinarian is not explaining the possible scenarios that could result from the prescribed treatment, you should ask. Not every treatment results in success. Success is not always obvious to the pet owner. In rechecking a patient, whether by phone or in person, we can determine whether a change in therapy is needed or do we need additional medications, therapies, etc?
Should we see a specialist or get a second opinion? Asking for a second opinion or a referral should never be an awkward or confrontational event. No veterinarian is an expert or knowledgeable in every area of medicine or surgery. There are species of pets that I know very little about, and there are surgeries, and other procedures that I have had little or no experience with. I always make a point to let clients know that I am not experienced in what their pet needs, and it is in the best interest of everyone if another set of eyes and another brain takes a crack at the problem, or maybe a specially-trained set of hands performs a particular surgery.
Do you have any information to read about this condition? Can I find information about this condition online? Sometimes, professionals are hesitant to direct our clients to online sources of information. Sometimes, we might be afraid the client will find contradictory information, or decide that what we recommended or told them is not correct. In fact, it is very likely they may find information that contradicts our opinion. There are plenty of websites with truly poor, uneducated information, which is free to anyone receptive to it. My job as a veterinarian is to either provide pet owners with direct information on our recommendation, diagnosis, or treatment plan. If I can’t do that directly, there are a number of scientifically excellent websites that I would never hesitate to send a pet owner to for further research. In many instances, the client may not understand what they read, and we are happy to explain things to the best of our ability, or suggest an alternative source of information in some cases.
Don’t hesitate to ask any or all of these questions, assuming they pertain to your situation and your pet. Your veterinarian should never act miffed, and should answer your questions to the point that you understand the answer.