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Vetting your Veterinarian-Surgeon

Sometimes, your current vet is unable to perform specialized surgeries that therefore must be performed by a surgeon.  This was the case with Biscuit’s final surgery at the end of June 2013.  Thus, finding the right match with a veterinarian who is a board certified surgeon is vital to your furry family member’s health and emotional well-being as well as the well-being and comfort of the furry family member’s human counterpart.

Based on our recent surgery experience with Biscuit, below are a list of recommended questions to ask — (1) your referring veterinarian; and (2) the surgeon prior to proceeding with surgery.  (This list is not exhaustive, and it should be used as a starting point to then be tailored to your specific needs).  Hopefully, these questions, shown below, will help assist you when selecting a surgeon concerning your furry family member’s medical and surgical needs.


Questions to ask your referring veterinarian:

1. Why are you [vet] referring me to this particular surgeon or surgery practice?

2. Do you [vet] have a financial relationship (i.e., kickbacks) with the surgeon you are referring me to?

3. What are your [vet] experiences with this surgeon and surgery practice?

4. Have you [vet] had patients who had any unfavorable experiences with this surgeon or surgery practice?  If so, can you elaborate on these experiences.

5. Ask your vet to send your entire record to the surgeon for review.

6. Ask your vet’s office to confirm with you that the entire record, including any records from other vet specialists, was sent to the surgeon’s office for review.


Questions to ask the prospective surgeon(s):

1. Confirm with the surgeon’s office that the entire record was received by the surgeon.

2. Ask to make sure that the surgeon has reviewed your file prior to the consultation appointment to ensure that the surgeon has an understanding of your case.

3. Ask the surgeon if he/she is board certified.

4. Ask the surgeon how long he/she has been practicing surgery.

5. Ask the number of times the surgeon has performed the potential surgery in question.

6. Although every case is different, ask the surgeon’s success rate concerning the surgery in question.

7. Ask the surgeon the duration of the surgery.

8. Be sure to discuss your furry family member’s medical history and any concurrent conditions that may complicate surgery.

9. Ask about the risks of anesthesia and whether your furry family member based on his/her history will be able to sustain the anesthesia.

10. Ask the surgeon about all of the potential risks of surgery.

11. Ask the surgeon about possible complications of the surgery, i.e., during surgery and post surgery.

12. Ask the surgeon about all of the possible outcomes of surgery.

13. Ask the surgeon about the prep work involved prior to surgery.

14. Ask the surgeon about the recovery time line post surgery.

15. Ask the surgeon about what is likely going to be involved in the recovery, i.e., follow-up vet visits; medication; diet; rehabilitation services; and your furry family member’s emotional health post surgery, etc.

16. Ask the surgeon about the quality of care provided while in the surgeon’s care and during the hospital stay.  It is critical that you understand who will be taking care of your furry family member; and it is extremely important to know how your furry family member will be cared for as you will be unable to monitor the care of your furry family member when your furry family member is in surgery and while staying at the hospital post-surgery.

17. Ask the surgeon about his/her caseload (and the practice’s case load) to get an understanding whether your furry family member will just be a number; or whether the surgeon and his/her practice provides more individualized and personalized care.  This is very important information to glean from the surgeon.  The surgeon’s answer to this question, presuming he/she is being truthful, should give you an idea of the business model being implemented and whether that type of business model fits your and your furry family member’s needs and expectations.

18. Ask the surgeon how he/she will communicate with you before, after, and post surgery, especially while your furry family member is staying in the hospital; ask the surgeon how often he/she communicates with clients while your furry family member is in the hospital; and ask how promptly your telephone calls and e-mails will be returned.  Communication is critical, especially while your furry family member is not in your care.

19. Ask how you will be able to get in touch with the surgeon and/or the surgeon(s) on call after hours and on the weekends to ensure continuity of care for your furry family member.  This is vital information to obtain and understand so that you can appropriately get your questions and concerns answered.

20. Ask to meet the staff members who will be taking care of your furry family member during the day time and over night while your furry family member is staying at the hospital.  These may not, and often are not, the same care providers.

21. Ask to see the surgery room and ask for a tour of the hospital to be sure you have a visual understanding of where your furry family member will be staying.

22. Ask the surgeon what work up will need to be completed prior to surgery to determine if surgery is appropriate, i.e., blood work; urinalysis; x-rays; MRI; and CT scans, etc.

23. Ask to obtain all of your furry family’s test results conducted at the surgeon’s office prior to surgery.

24. Ask the surgeon in his/her opinion what will provide the best quality of life for your furry family member, i.e., proceeding with the surgery or exploring other avenues (if any are available) to help treat your furry family member, etc.

25. Ask the surgeon for references of clients who are willing to speak about his/her experiences with this particular surgeon.

26. Ask the surgeon about his/her veterinary philosophy.

27. Ask about the total cost for the surgery, including contingency costs for possible complications to ensure an accurate cost estimate.

28. Be certain to ask any and all follow-up questions with the surgeon to be sure that you have a clear and informed understanding on all fronts.


Other important considerations:

1. Be certain to take the time to review the estimate(s) provided by the surgeon and ask further questions where you need clarification.

2. Be certain to read the contract and any appended paper work to be sure you ask any and all questions that you might have.

3. After asking these above questions, make sure if you proceed with surgery, that you feel comfortable working with this particular surgeon.

The goal, at least for Doug and I,  is to find a surgeon who is competent; compassionate; honest; ethical; diligent;  provides compassionate care; communicates clearly; is responsive in a timely fashion; and who is willing to work collaboratively with the client (and the furry family member) as a team.

4. After you meet with the surgeon, if you have any reservations whatsoever about your trust or ability to work as a team with the surgeon, you should obtain a second opinion from another surgeon — preferably a second opinion from another surgeon in another practice.

For Doug and I, finding the best match with a primary veterinarian and veterinarian-surgeon is our primary concern.  Unfortunately, here in Maryland, there are only a few surgeons  who are board certified.  Luckily, D.C., Northern Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania are not too far away; and depending upon where you live or where you are willing to travel to, and depending upon the nature and timing of the possible surgery, there are universities (vet schools) around the country who employ board certified surgeons who can perform surgeries on your furry family member(s).

I hope that you find some of these questions and considerations helpful concerning your furry family member(s).

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Pat Pope #

    What a nice picture of Biscuit! Very comprehensive list. Too bad you had to learn all this the hard way. Luckily there is a very good vet school/hospital near us in Ft. Collins.

    July 31, 2013

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