How often have you or a member of your team not offered the best care because you feared or assumed a pet owner couldn’t afford the cost of that care? It happens more often than you might think, and pets aren’t getting the care they need as a result. Instead, pets are treated for symptoms and often have to be seen some time later for the same problem, which actually ends up costing the pet owner more money in the long run.

For example, a golden retriever visits the veterinarian for ear infections but never receives an ear culture and sensitivity screening. Instead, the pet owner brings the retriever in every time he shows signs of an ear infection and pays for the exam and medications to treat the apparent infection. It’s a cycle that would frustrate any pet owner and would leave the pet in unnecessary pain.

Setting diagnostic standards

“We diagnose before we treat.” It’s a simple standard that can cause big changes for your practice, your veterinary team, your clients, and your patients. While every pet owner may not be able to afford the most comprehensive diagnostic workup for their pet, it should still be discussed and recommended to them. It’s their right to make an informed decision about the care they want for their pet.

What kinds of diagnostic standards should be set in your practice?

Set diagnostic standards related to the most common maladies seen in your practice. For example, every time a dog visits your hospital because of diarrhea, which diagnostic tests will always be recommended? What about a cat who’s had discharge coming from her eyes? Some areas to consider developing diagnostic standards include:

  • Wellness
    • Puppy/kitten
    • Adult
    • Senior
  • Ears
  • Eyes
  • Skin
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lameness
  • “ADR” (ain’t doing right)

Getting the veterinary health care team on board


There are approximately 20 types of tests performed in a veterinary practice (with blood work being counted as only one of these). Once you’ve developed your diagnostic standards, educate your entire team about why these tests are important and necessary for diagnosing the problem before treating it. Everyone should have the basic knowledge about the types of tests your practice performs and when they are recommended based on the symptoms of the patient.

The team should also understand how to effectively convey this message to pet owners, and should know how to respond when a pet owner elects not to proceed with diagnostic recommendations.

Making it easy

You can create bundles or groupings in your practice information management software (PIMS) for the entire team so they are able to:

  • Quickly create an estimate or treatment care plan to discuss with the pet owner
  • Use when educating pet owners about the level of care and potential costs when diagnosing and treating these common symptoms and maladies
  • Quickly anticipate the doctor’s needs and be more proactive in supporting them by
    • Having the tests already performed prior to the veterinarian entering the exam room
    • Having the testing supplies available after the veterinarian examines the pet
    • Executing on the treatment care plan after the veterinarian’s confirmed orders and pet owner’s acceptance

The benefits of setting diagnostic standards in your practice

Pets win

By standardizing diagnostics in your hospital, pet owners will have been better educated and prepared about the standard of care at your practice throughout their pets’ medical issues, from the initial phone call to the exam room. Because of that, they’ll be more likely to trust you and your team, and will be more willing to comply with your recommendations, which will lead to healthier, happier pets.

Pet owners win

When more pets are properly diagnosed, and therefore properly treated, pet owners will experience fewer repeat visits to the veterinary hospital for the same symptoms. While the initial visit may cost more if the pet owner complies with your diagnostic recommendations, the proper diagnosis will prevent the pet owner from having to pay for future exams in an attempt to treat the pet’s symptoms.

Your practice wins

By creating and implementing diagnostic standards, your team will be equipped to educate clients on the phone prior to scheduling an appointment. They will educate pet owners in the exam room before the veterinarian enters. They will be advocates for pets if they have the knowledge and ability to educate your clients about the best care for their pets, which will help them to feel empowered and more satisfied in their positions at your practice.

And, because your clients will have been educated throughout the process, they won’t be as likely to feel sticker shock when it’s time to pay the bill, which is a good thing for everyone.

Questions about setting diagnostic standards?

If you’re unsure about how to effectively set standards in your practice, contact me. No matter how you want to improve your veterinary practice, my comprehensive online veterinary management course (the Relationship Centered Practice Academy) and my one-on-one consulting services have helped countless practices to grow, improve, and thrive.