AAHA's finalized referral guidelines reflect few changes

AAHA's finalized referral guidelines reflect few changes

May 01, 2007

DENVER — Following input from dozens of veterinarians nationwide, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has published the final version of its referral guidelines. However, veterinarians can expect to see minimal changes with this latest version.

The draft version, released earlier this year, was developed as a starting point to elicit industry feedback, according to Link Welborn, DVM, DABVP, chair of the AAHA-accredited referral practice task force. "Our intent all along was to distribute that very widely, to seek broad input and then to revise those guidelines based on that input to create the final product," Welborn says.

The draft's purpose was to ensure that a wide range of stakeholders had the opportunity to participate in developing the guidelines. To solicit feedback, AAHA distributed its draft via the following:

  • VIN homepage
  • All AAHA accredited practices
  • Private-practice specialists
  • Emergency clinicians
  • Teaching hospitals in the United States and Canada
  • Specialty organizations
  • Organized veterinary medicine (American Veterinary Medical Association, American Board of Veterinary Specialties)

In all, the organization's 10-person task force disseminated the guidelines to thousands of veterinarians, who were each given the opportunity to comment. From that number, about 100 "thoughtful" individuals provided feedback, according to Dr. Welborn.

Although the response rate was not high, AAHA officials were pleased that the feedback was "by and large very positive."

What did they find?

"In reality what we found is that, while there was not a significant number of individuals that gave us input, the vast majority who did respond were people that were very supportive of the guidelines. This suggested that it was something that was definitely needed within the profession," Dr. Welborn says.

As for changes, Dr. Welborn says they were "minor. Nothing was a lightning bolt, where we said, 'boy, I can't believe we missed that.' For the most part, there were relatively minor changes. Some people provided input with regard to wordsmithing – how we might clarify what we were attempting to communicate. There wasn't a big sort of 'a-ha' moment where we realized we had missed something that was substantial."

The guidelines, as defined in the preamble of the finalized version, are designed to serve as a "template" that veterinarians across North America can use to bridge the communication gap in the referral relationship, Dr. Welborn notes.

The AAHA referral guidelines are the first for the association and are consistent with guidelines from the American Veterinary Medical Association, according to Dr. Welborn.

"But the AAHA guidelines are much broader in their intent," he says. "That is to say that our guidelines are much more specific and detailed than AVMA's version."

Specifically, the guidelines define the responsibilities of all veterinary parties prior to, during and after the referral. Topics include seeking second opinions, transferring a case, fees, informing the referring/receiving veterinarian of diagnoses and how to handle unresolved cases.

Issuing the guidelines, however, is only the first step.

"The next step is to try to raise awareness about their existence," Dr. Welborn says. "Our hope is that, in effect, veterinarians will actually sit down with their counterpart on the other side of the referral relationship and talk about the guidelines and what they believe would be useful in their individual relationships for the ultimate benefit of clients and patients."

The complete guidelines are online at http://www.aahanet.org/.