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Take it home: these take-home points will help you put your referral network plan into action (Supported by Nestlé Purina, Pfizer Animal Health, and the Veterinary Specialty Practice Alliance)

Article

These steps will guide you on your way toward establishing a referral network for your own practice.

You've decided to start a referral network so you can offer the best care possible for your patients. You've already taken the first step to establishing a referral network by reading this special report. But what's next? The following steps will guide you on your way toward establishing a referral network for your own practice.

Step 1: Do your research.

  • Review the new American Animal Hospital Association referral guidelines (see AAHA guide to smooth referrals). Key points include timing appropriate referrals; building mutual respect; avoiding duplicated diagnostic testing; and communicating before, during, and after specialty care (www.aahanet.org/PublicDocuments/AAHAReferralGuidelines.pdf).

  • Attend and network at veterinary conferences and continuing education seminars to find the most qualified specialists in your area.

  • Ask other primary care veterinarians in your area where they refer and solicit feedback about those specialty clinics.

Guidelines To Fostering Strong Relationships

Step 2: Reach out.

  • Tour potential specialty clinics to get to know the specialists and hospitals.

  • Ask potential specialists about their philosophy on teamwork and communication.

  • Make sure your specialists are open and willing to answer any of your questions before you decide to refer.

  • To iron out expectations, always meet with specialists in person before establishing a formal relationship.

Step 3: Set your protocols.

  • Decide when to refer by meeting with all the veterinarians in your practice. Set down on paper your protocols for referral, including what conditions or courses of treatment will prompt a referral. Primary care veterinarians should refer a case to a specialist if the needed course of treatment goes beyond their expertise, available equipment, or patient care staff training.

  • Don't ride the fence—the timing of a referral can make a huge difference, sometimes between life and death. Your written protocol should state that, if the need arises, you would refer as early as possible. This will also keep you free and clear of any legal liability should the client pursue a lawsuit.

  • Consider adding specialist referrals into your hospital's list of values—specialists are an extension of the primary care veterinarian. Together, you'll provide the pet with the best care possible.

  • Set guidelines on how your practice will communicate with clients about referrals. How will you explain the medical need, and how will you approach the issue of cost?

  • Never underestimate a client's willingness to pay.

  • When recommending referral, set a standard regarding how and when the estimate of specialty care fees is to be discussed with your client.

  • Set protocols for how you'll communicate with specialists. What information, at minimum, will you pass back and forth?

  • Provide complete and legible medical records to the specialist— plus any test results, interpretation of those results, and diagnostic plan.

Step 4: Maintain the relationship.

  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Both the specialist and primary care veterinarian should keep the other updated on the pet's condition before, during, and after specialty care.

  • After the client returns to the primary care veterinarian, keep the specialist in the loop about the patient's condition.

  • Invite specialists to lunch meetings at your primary care practice to keep your veterinarians updated on the specialty services available.

  • Attend lectures and continuing education courses when available at the specialty clinics.

  • Regularly evaluate your relationship with specialists and address any concerns promptly—and in person.

Throughout this process, remember that the road to establishing a successful referral network can twist and turn. But when the primary care veterinarian and the specialist meet half way, it enables the pet to live a longer and healthier life, which increases the owner-primary care practitioner bond, nurtures the owner-pet bond, and creates a longer patient-practitioner relationship. But most of all, it's about the pet and what you want for them—the best care possible.

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