It's time for specialty care:
Your pet's medical care may be more complicated than your primary veterinary feels comfortable managing. Or maybe, things just aren't getting better and you want a second opinion.
Either way, you've found yourself headed to a consultation with a specialist. What can you expect?
First of all, the beginning of the appointment will probably feel very similar to what you're used to at your primary vet. There's probably some differences like the practice is in a large university setting, or a 24/7 hospital. Either way, your going to speak to a staff member (most likely a vet tech) who gets a detailed history about your pet's history. Be prepared for this to be in depth, we're making sure we have as much information as possible to create the most complete picture of your pets health. Don't be offended if we ask basic questions, we want get it right for your pet. Check out the article about good things to bring with you to every appointment by clicking the link here.
The specialist will offer diagnostics or treatments that may not be available at your primary vet (pDVM). The specialist will work closely with you and your pDVM to provide care with the goal for your pet to transition back to your pDVM for continued care once the immediate disease process is either treated or under control.
What is a Specialty Veterinarian?
A veterinary specialist is a veterinarian who has advanced training in a specific discipline and is board certified. In order to achieve this designation the veterinarian must have completed an internship and a residency in their chosen specialty, as well as pass a board exam. This is in addition to the general veterinarian schooling and certification.
In the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is the organization to recognize specialties. Currently, there are forty one distinct and recognized specialties. For a full list of all the different specialties you can visit the AVMA website here.
When dealing with any of the listed body systems below, the appropriate specialist will be an internal medicine specialist.
The veterinary specialist will have the initials DACVIM after their name. This stands for Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM).
Typically a veterinary specialist will work within a private hospital or veterinary teaching hospital. These hospitals offer specialized services most general practices do not since they have specialty equipment cost prohibitive for most small practices.
What about specialty veterinary technicians?
Yes, just like human medicine, veterinary technicians can get their specialty designation by completing advanced training in a specific discipline and is board certified. In order to achieve this designation the vet tech must complete a formal process of education, training, experience and testing to qualify. This is in addition to the general veterinary technician schooling and certification.
A vet tech that achieves this license has the initials VTS followed by their discipline. VTS stands for Veterinary Technician Specialist. For Small Animal Internal Medicine the initials are SAIM. For example my name tag says: "Yvonne B. RVT, VTS (SAIM)" which means I am a Registered Veterinary Technician in the state of California, and I obtained my VTS in small animal, dogs and cats, internal medicine.
A Veterinary Technician Specialist has advanced knowledge and skills to help the veterinarian, you, and especially your pet.
When should you see a specialist?
It is common once your primary care veterinarian (pDVM) has a diagnosis of (or suspects) an internal medicine disease they may refer you to a specialist. Ideally, your primary veterinarian will provide the specialist with the full medical history of your pet including all pertinent results of tests performed for the consultation appointment. This will allow the specialist to review your pet's record and create a plan for diagnostics and treatments specific to the patient. The specialist will send the medical records to your pDVM to ensure they stay in the loop about your pets care.
You may also self refer to a specialist. The process will be similar to being referred by your pDVM, the only difference being your pDVM is not initiating the consultation with the specialist. If, for some reason, you prefer your pDVM not be given an update, please communicate this to the specialist.
There may be situations when your pet was admitted into an emergency hospital and then transferred to a specialty service the next day. In this case, the specialist will review all records including the current hospitalization, contact your pDVM for medical history, and complete a consultation either in person or over the phone with you to make sure the treatment plan is approved and understood.
If you would like to find a specialist near you, I recommend asking your primary veterinarian if they have a specialist they recommend, or you can visit the VetSpecialists website.
What a specialty vet doesn't do:
When working with a specialty veterinarian it is important to remember they do not practice general veterinary medicine. Routine vaccines, dental or ear cleanings are not something they typically do. General veterinary medicine is best done with your primary veterinarian. Why? First and foremost, specialty veterinarians need to work to maintain a working relationship with pDVM's to ensure a healthy relationship between them. It is important for maintaining a referral relationship to make sure the pDVM isn't worried of another veterinarian 'stealing' their patients. This relationship is a collaborative one.
So, if you ask for a specialty veterinarian to do something your primary veterinarian usually does for you, please don't be offended if they redirect you to your normal vet.
Also, it is important to remember when working with your veterinarians, they will work together as best as possible for the health of your pet. Most specialists and pDVM's will communicate, including specialists sending medical records to the referring pDVM to ensure they are fully aware of the treatment plan created.
A friendly note here: when scheduling follow up care double check where these appointments are recommended. Some may be done with your regular vet, whereas others may need to be with the specialist. Either way, the veterinarian that ordered recheck lab work or other diagnostics should be the one to communicate to you the results.
I hope this article helps describe the duties of the specialty veterinary professionals you meet during your consultation. If you'd like more information, I recommend checking out the VetSpecialist website here.
The next time you go to the specialist you'll know a little more about what the people helping you and your pet do. Take a moment and ask them about all the unique things they are able to do. Who knows? You might be able to get a tour of the hospital and see just how similar it looks to a human hospital.
Yvonne Brandenburg, RVT, VTS (SAIM) is a Registered Veterinary Technician practicing in California and obtained her Veterinary Technician Specialty in Small Animal Internal Medicine in 2016. She is the founder of of InternalMedicineForPetParents.com.
This website is NOT a substitute for veterinary care with a veterinarian. We recommend you follow the advice and treatment plan as prescribed by your veterinarian, and only after discussing anything found on this website with your veterinarian, with their approval, implementing advice found here.
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