Tips for improving cardiology diagnostics at your veterinary practice.
Most pet owners just think about heartworms when it comes to their pets' tickers. But you know there's much more to the heart than a single parasite. Cardiology diagnostics can be part of your diagnostic regimen. An affordable test for cats and dogs has hit the market, and the equipment required for additional testing may already be in your hospital. Even cardiologists often rely on primary care practitioners to recognize animals at risk for heart disease and test them.
Risky business: King Charles Cavalier spaniels, like Robbie Roberts above, are at risk for cardiac problems.
That's what Dr. Steve Fenster does at Clovis Pet Hospital in Clovis, Calif. He performs comprehensive exams, uses a blood test for cats and dogs that targets heart disease and heart failure, and puts to use his radiography, ECG, and ultrasound equipment to find out what's wrong with patients' hearts. He doesn't treat all the problems himself, but he diagnoses many of them.
If you don't explain to clients that heart disease is a risk and that testing is crucial, your patients miss out on better health and your practice is missing out on important revenue. Follow these steps to protect your patients' health.
Working up a cardiac case
Let clients know that all cats and dogs, especially older pets, need regular exams and diagnostics to rule out problems. Talk to pet owners about the different types of heart conditions and the signs of heart disease—coughing, labored breathing, or an intolerance to exercise. And use your staff: A veterinary team member can explain the importance of cardiology care and answer many questions before you even show up in the exam room.
Pets at risk for heart disease because of their breed or age need comprehensive exams and possibly blood pressure checks. Listen for heart murmurs and heart rhythm and rate abnormalities. To really excel, make sure you explain to clients that you're listening to the heart and how important it is for their pet's health to identify cardiac problems early.
Dr. Fenster has been using a blood test for dogs that's recently been released for cats. The test gives Dr. Fenster an easier way to nail down heart disease. "Diagnostics right now have almost exceeded our therapeutic ability at our clinic," he says.
If you find a problem during the exam and you've got an ECG machine and the proper training, use it. A closer look at the heart with radiographs may be called for as well. Some veterinarians also turn to ultrasound, using in-house mobile ultrasound services or referring clients to specialty hospitals. If you're trained to use ultrasound, however, there's no reason you can't handle a necessary chest ultrasound yourself. Be sure, however, that if you're using equipment to diagnose, you've been properly trained and you're always ready to ask for a second opinion from—or refer to—a cardiologist. In many cases, a referral is in the patient's and client's best interest.
Many pet owners—even dedicated clients—sometimes can't afford the whole gamut of cardiology diagnostics. In this economy, many of your colleagues help clients choose the best diagnostics they can afford to get to the bottom of a problem. With the right testing, the right training, and the right client education, there's a good chance you can offer options at a price any client can afford.