When I was a little boy, I remember watching the television show “Bonanza.” (And yes, I’ve been a veterinarian that long—more than 36 years.) There was a commercial for Texaco that aired during the broadcast with the jingle, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star. The big…bright...Texaco star!”

That ad was so successful and so memorable because it conveyed loud and clear—and in rhyme!—that Texaco was the best and most trustworthy gas station out there. I bet any of you reading this who are old enough to have seen it can still sing that song to this day.

Today, we’re more skeptical of advertising claims and tend to build trust in businesses somewhat differently. We look at TripAdvisor and J.D. Power and Associates ratings, read consumer magazines and websites, view online reviews for products and services, or even belong to subscription services like Angie’s List that promise unblemished, noncompensated reviews. But how can clients choose a local veterinary hospital and know the practice is among the very best?

Overwhelmingly, this is a profession in which individuals have chosen the love of animals over the love of money. Veterinarians are literally at the bottom of the medical heap when it comes to making money. All other health care professionals—doctors, dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, and registered nurses—make more than we do. But however much we were drawn to the profession by our love of animals, I’m not going to try to tell you that all veterinarians or veterinary hospitals are great. Like any profession, we have our bad apples.

How bad? Some veterinarians don’t get enough continuing education to stay up to date on current best practices for treatment, surgery, and prevention. Other veterinarians practice above their level of competency and refuse to refer pets to specialists as often as they should. Sometimes it’s because they want to appear to have all the answers all the time, and others, it’s because they don’t want to lose the income.

Still other veterinarians do not perform enough diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis, and thus, have the best treatment plan. Even the best veterinarians at the top practices in the world need diagnostic tests to make sure they are accurate and haven’t missed something.

It can be much worse. Some veterinary hospitals do not use an autoclave to sterilize instruments (relying on what’s called “cold sterilization”), or operate on multiple pets on “spay day” using the same instruments. Others administer out-of-date medications, use injectable anesthetics only because they don’t have gas anesthesia, or stick with older, less safe inhalation anesthetics because they’re cheaper.

I’ve even been in veterinary hospitals (one within the last year) that, rather than use the same high-quality suture material used in human hospitals and the vast majority of veterinary hospitals, use monofilament fishing line—the same stuff you’d hook a six-pound trout with—to suture up patients.

If you use cheaper but riskier anesthetics, don’t have a dedicated anesthetist monitoring the pet during surgery, don’t use a different sterile surgery pack for each patient, and don’t give pain medication before, during, and after surgery, you can be the low price leader in the community. But at what cost to the pet and pet owner?

You can take a major step in reassuring pet owners in your community that your hospital is in the top flight of all the veterinary practices in the world by becoming accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the undisputed leader of high-quality companion animal practices.

“I have clients ask me all the time, ‘How can I find a vet who’ll provide good medical care that I can trust?’” my friend and colleague, Tony Johnson, DVM, DACVECC, of Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Care in Indianapolis, Indiana, told me when I asked him how pet owners find trusted veterinarians.

“My answer is always the same,” he said. “Since we can’t play favorites in the ER and send them to a specific hospital, I tell them, ‘Talk to your pet-loving friends and family, and make sure it’s an AAHA-accredited hospital. It’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for animal hospitals.’”

AAHA-accredited hospitals are the proverbial cream of the crop. To become accredited takes rigor and a serious investment of time and money. There are more than 900 standards that are evaluated in person every three years.

“Life as a general practice veterinarian can become so hectic and chaotic that we sometimes lose sight of where we stand and why we’re here,” said Jonathan Bloom, DVM, of Willowdale Animal Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

“We often get so caught up trying to complete our exam room checklist that we forget to kiss the dog! AAHA accreditation brings me back on track, and keeps me focused on why I’m in practice—for the love of pets and for the desire to help pet owners,” he said. “That accreditation assures my staff and my clients that we’re working together to provide the most exceptional level of pet healthcare imaginable.”

If you’ve been on the fence about seeking AAHA accreditation for your practice, it’s time to jump off. It might not be as unforgettable as the Texaco jingle, but it will pay off in client trust, patient wellbeing, and your bottom line for as long as you’re in business.

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