The most important animal in your hospital is the animal under anesthesia. Why wouldn’t you establish standards and protocols to ensure that animal is cared for properly and in a consistent manner, regardless of the team member managing its care?

Without anesthetic and surgical protocols, a veterinary hospital will experience inefficient workflow and inconsistent client and patient experiences.

In my 20+ years of experience consulting hundreds of hospitals, I’ve seen a wide range in the quality of medicine practiced. The level of care varies so much despite the many wonderful tools and resources related to setting standards of care in various areas. Just one example of the tools available is the AAHA Anesthesia Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.

Does your hospital follow the AAHA guidelines? Have you created your own set of anesthetic and surgical standards for your staff to follow? Here are some areas and questions to consider when developing anesthetic and surgical standards for your hospital:

  • Options for clients — Too often, I’ve overheard support staff asking clients if they want to add on services at an additional cost prior to a surgical procedure. Some examples include pre-anesthetic blood testing, pain management, and fluid therapy. Are these services optional at your practice? Do you recommend them but not require them? If you believe these services are necessary to provide the best level of care, do not give the client the option. Require it. Include the services as part of your standard of care and charge accordingly for them. When the team is confident in the standard of care at your practice, when they understand why it is the standard of care, and when they know how to educate clients about the standard of care, they will be more likely to comply with the ideal treatment plan. Clients do not want options. They don’t want to be nickel and dimed to death. They want you to make solid recommendations that are in the best interest of their pets.
  • Monitoring — Do you use additional equipment to monitor the cardiovascular, respiratory, and central nervous system functions?
  • Sterile technique — Not every practice uses the highest level of sterile technique. Cap, gown, mask, gloves, sterile instruments, and a surgery suite that complies with AAHA guidelines can all be included in your surgical standards.
  • Surgical wound appearance — When a practice employs multiple doctors, having standards in this area is important. When the team discharges multiple patients, it could be confusing, or the wrong information could be shared with the client. Your client could be told, “Ms. Jones, Buffy needs to come back in 10 days for suture removal.”  When in reality, the sutures could be dissolvable, or perhaps Buffy received staples. Consistency is the key focus here.
  • Post-surgical care — Here is what AAHA says about post-surgical care: “Someone trained in the detection of recovery abnormalities should monitor patients throughout recovery. Postoperatively, attention is given to body temperature, level of sedation, and appropriate analgesia.” (NOTE: I have witnessed a patient recovering from anesthesia in a top cage in the back of the hospital without any attention given to his or her recovery.)
  • Admitting and discharging the patient — There are three touch points with the client prior to and after the anesthetic/surgical procedure. The veterinarian should be part of at least one of these touch points, which include:
    • Admission — The client should be escorted into the exam room prior to admission of the pet. One person from the surgery team should be responsible for the admission process (i.e., performs a cursory exam of the patient, reviews the medical history, makes additional recommendations based on the exam and review of past due reminders, goes over the consent forms and treatment care plan, schedules a discharge appointment, and gets a phone number where the client can be reached throughout the day).
    • Phone call after procedure — The client should be contacted by one person from the surgery team to let them know the status of the pet. During the call, the discharge instructions can be presented to the client.
    • Discharge — The client should be escorted into the exam room prior to discharging the patient. One person from the surgery team will go over release instructions, home care, prescription medications, etc.
  • Written release instructions and client communications — Discharge sheets can be powerful tools for educating clients before they leave the practice and again when they are home, where they can review the information on the sheet. This will increase the perception of the value and quality of medicine the pet received.

By having these standards in place, your entire team will become walking, talking billboards for all of the fabulous things happening in your veterinary practice. People want to work for a practice they can be proud of. When you have standards that ensure everyone is practicing high-quality, consistent medicine, your team will be geared with the knowledge to educate everyone they talk to, including your clients, about what you do in your practice and why you do it.

Want to learn more about setting anesthetic and surgical standards in your practice? The Relationship Centered Practice Academy, the most comprehensive online veterinary practice management course, includes step-by-step guides and tangible tools you can use to create and implement protocols that will help to propel your practice to the highest levels of success. Get the tools you need now!