The Future of Veterinary Medicine: Open Hospitals?

Author: Alie Volpatti, RVT

When asked why we chose veterinary medicine most of us could go on for hours about our love of animals and the desire to help them drawing us to the field. We love seeing our patients each and every day, but what can we do to make their experiences better when they come to visit?

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Western Veterinary Conference for the first time. I chose to attend a few seminars that may not normally be on my radar as they were not medicine based, and I am so glad that I did! What I learned flicked a switch and I knew that I wanted to get our clinic on board to make a change for even better patient care and handling.

One of the first seminars I attended was all about a clinic that had a completely open hospital policy. Not only did they allow owners to come and tour their clinic at any time but they also invited them to be present for all treatments, emergencies, and even some surgeries for their pet. They related their model of care to that of taking a young child into the hospital, where you, as their parent, would expect to have all of their care explained to you and be present for their procedures and treatments. Not only would you be able support your child, but you would know what is happening to them at all times.

At first this seemed a bit out there to me; what about safety and liability, patient privacy, stage fright for staff, and of course anxious owners negatively effecting their pets treatment or procedure. This was all addressed as I learned more about why they follow this model and why they feel it is so important for their patients well being.

  • Communication and transparency are significantly increased and owners can feel like they are a part of decisions and treatment plans for their pet. They can decide if they want to be present for a procedure or not. 
  • Clear expectations are set with owners so they know what they will be seeing and what is and is not allowed while they are in the treatment area. 
  • There is great value created for a client when they can witness all the time and skill that goes into a treatment or procedure for their pet and know exactly what is going on “in the back”, rather than just hear unexplained noises and have to assume the worst. 
  • We should never be handling a pet in a way that owners would not like to see. If it is perceived that an owner might not like to see their pet being restrained in a certain manner, then we should change how we are approaching the situation. 
  • Being involved in their pets care makes it much more personal for an owner and increases their compliance. 

Maybe this model seems interesting to you but you don’t think your hospital is quite ready to jump in and have owners watching surgeries. Here are some ways to get the ball rolling:

  • Take the time to walk through all procedures and expectations with owners. This takes a few extra minutes but adds a lot to an owners experience and allows them to be fully informed about what is happening to their pet.
  • Capture progress pictures throughout a procedure. The ability to show an owner before and after pictures is a great way to add value to their visit. 
  • Get your team on board with Low-stress or Fear Free Certifications – if a patient is getting anxious or fearful, take a step back and consider sedation to allow for a better experience. 
  • Keep your practice presentable at all times, that way if the moment presents itself for an owner to come to the back to be present for a procedure, there is nothing to be worried about. 
  • Start to choose appropriate clients to have present while performing low risk procedures in the exam rooms. These can include nail trims, blood draws, SQ fluid administration, ultrasounds, sedations, and more. This will start to get staff used to working in front of clients. 

An open hospital policy can work when there is very clear communication with owners. Setting up their expectations before hand and remembering that it is always their pet. While everything is routine to us, nothing is routine for them.

Dog and cats are becoming more than just pets and are a part of the family. The future of veterinary medicine revolves not only around advancing and improving health care but also around superior patient care and bedside manner. In the day and age of social media and online reviews, pet parents are looking for more than just good medicine; they want an improved experience for their pets and themselves. That is what will set your hospital apart from others.

About the Author

Alie Volpatti is an RVT & the Technical Team Lead at Caledon Mountain Veterinary Hospital in Caledon Village, ON. She graduated from Seneca College in 2011 and has been working in small animal medicine and orthopedics ever since. Alie is currently working towards her IVAPM certification to become a Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner as well as Fear Free Certified.