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AAHA guide to smooth referrals (Supported by Nestlé Purina, Pfizer Animal Health, and the Veterinary Specialty Practice Alliance)


To help bridge the communication gap between primary care veterinarians and specialists, the AAHA developed practical referral guidelines for companian animal practices.

To help bridge the communication gap between primary care veterinarians and specialists, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) developed practical referral guidelines for companion animal practices. Created by a diverse task force, including primary care veterinarians, private practice specialists, and practice management experts, the guidelines are intended to enhance teamwork among veterinary professionals so they can provide the highest quality of care for pets.

Separated into referring and receiving responsibilities, the AAHA Referral Guidelines take veterinarians through the referral process step-by-step. Beginning with pre-referral responsibilities, the guidelines outline exactly what both primary care veterinarians and specialists need to consider and communicate to each other and the client, such as:

  • The severity and needs of a patient: Is a referral needed, and who is best suited to receive the referral?

  • Patient history: Does the receiving veterinarian want a detailed or summarized history?

  • Clients' requests: Both parties should honor any request by the client for a second opinion.

  • Financial considerations: What is the estimated cost of a referral?

  • Time considerations: Is the receiving veterinarian able to take on the referral in a timely manner?

  • Transfer of the patient back to the primary care veterinarian: How should specialists return an animal to the primary care veterinarian after referral services are complete?

The guidelines continue to cover both the primary care veterinarian and the specialist's responsibilities during and following the referral, specifically focusing on communication. During the referral process, both partnering veterinarians must keep each other and the client updated on their actions. Who will provide which services and why should be established and explained to the client. The veterinarians are also responsible for informing each other of any change in the patient's health or the client's wishes. If a client expresses concern or requests a second referral to the specialist, the primary care veterinarian should be alerted immediately. To check out the full version of the AAHA Referral Guidelines, go to http://www.aahanet.org

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