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Veterinary Specialist Practices

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If you think of the wide variety of veterinary medical services that a typical general practice veterinarian provides, you'll surely agree that the breadth of knowledge and expertise of veterinary practitioners is quite amazing. In the course of a vet's week, she or he will likely a) provide well-pet care to scores of dogs and cats, b) perform spay-neuter procedures, and c) handle a variety of medical emergencies ranging from scrapes and bruises to life-threatening injuries, not to mention treating orthopedic, dermatological, endocrine, and other conditions.

Animal medicine is no less complex than human medicine, so it should come as no surprise that there are more and more veterinary specialists to whom the pet owner can turn when a problem arises that calls for special care.

While veterinary specialization is not a new phenomenon, what is new is the appearance on the scene in recent years of large veterinary practices staffed by highly trained and qualified specialists in a variety of practice areas. These specialized veterinary practices provide only specialized care, usually on a referral-only basis from a general practice veterinarian.

Top-quality specialized veterinary care comes to the Bay State

An example of such a practice is the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center of New England(VESCONE), in Waltham, MA. Co-founded by Amy A. Shroff, DVM, who serves as VESCONE's Chief of Staff, VESCONE employs Board-certified specialists in the areas of Emergency and Critical Care, Surgery, Internal Medicine, Ophthalmology, Radiology, Acupuncture, and Cardiology.

VESCONE's 18,000-sq. ft. facility is equipped with three surgery suites, two radiology suites, six exam rooms, as well as an isolation suite, and a fully equipped laboratory to perform all necessary blood tests in-house. In addition, through an affiliation with the New England Veterinary Oncology Group, located in the same building, VESCONE offers complete cancer diagnosis and treatment services.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Shroff points out that "veterinary medicine has grown in leaps and bounds, as in human medicine, but that there has not been a lot of outreach to the general public to inform them of the availability of specialized care.''

VESCONE's Emergency & Critical Care facility is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is headed by a veterinarian certified by the  American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. As is the case with most specialty veterinary practices, except for emergency admissions, patients must be referred to VESCONE by a veterinarian who has determined that specialist care is necessary.

This underscores an important point: specialty practices such as VESCONE are not a substitute for the care of the general practice vet. As Shroff is eager to emphasize, "We work in tandem with GPs''.

Specialist care in the 'Big Apple'

Most people are unaware that New York City is a town of pet lovers. Whether it's a cat living in a Brooklyn studio apartment, a Lab romping in Central Park, or a Cockatiel on Fifth Avenue, New Yorkers are crazy about their pets and expect specialized veterinary care on par with the medical care offered by New York's well-known human hospitals.

Fortunately, in addition to the many highly qualified general practice vets in the city, New York is also the home of NYC Veterinary Specialists, a specialty and emergency veterinary care facility with offices on Manhattan's west side as well as in the borough of Queens. NYC-VS is affiliated with Florida Veterinary Specialists & Cancer Treatment Center, which provides comparable services in the Tampa Bay area.

In a recent conversation with WebVet, NYC-VS Medical Director Neil Shaw, DVM, ACVIM -- who also founded the Florida practice more than 12 years ago -- explained that "the specialized veterinary practices provide the best treatment options for a wide variety of conditions.'' He points out that veterinary knowledge has expanded exponentially and that the general practitioner simply cannot know everything. "A specialty practice forms a needed hub for veterinary practice in the area it serves by providing back-up and educational support to general practice vets,'' he said.

With almost 40 Board-certified veterinarians on staff, NYC-VS provides comprehensive veterinary care across all the major specialties, including Behavioral Medicine, Internal Medicine, Oncology, and Emergency/Critical Care, among others. The practice is fully equipped with all of the most up-to-date diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, enabling its veterinarians to treat the widest possible variety of conditions.

A very partial list of the procedures performed at NYC-VS includes:

  • Laser Glaucoma surgery
  • Corneal and lens transplants
  • Radiation and Chemotherapy for cancer treatment
  • Tumor biopsies
  • Cryotherapy
  • Bone Marrow biopsies
  • Ligament repair surgery
  • Hip dysplasia repair
  • Plastic and reconstructive surgery

Like VESCONE, NYC-VS maintains a fully equipped emergency/critical care facility 24/7/365. Non-emergency admissions are by referral only from the primary care vet.

What the future holds

Asked whether he thinks that in the future, veterinary specialty practices will supplant the general veterinary practitioner, Shaw's opinion mirrored that of his colleague from Massachusetts, Dr. Shroff, when he said emphatically that the general practitioner will remain the primary source of veterinary services: "The development of specialized practices will be a very strong resource for pet owners and veterinarians,'' he said. "While vet specialty practices will be completely separate from those of the general practitioners, there will be a close working relationship between the two.''

Demand on the rise

How many specialty practices are ultimately established is anyone's guess, but clearly the demand for more such facilities is on the rise. Evidence of this is the establishment, in 1999, of the Veterinary Specialty Practice Alliance, a not-for-profit association representing approximately 20 veterinary specialty clinics throughout the United States. In fact, the VSPA plans to begin a private Residency and Intern program in July of this year at multiple locations within the United States.

For the pet owner

The proliferation of specialty veterinary practices may leave you wondering, "Where do I go first?'' The answer is simple: your general practice "family'' vet should be the first resource you turn to for your pet's care. Discuss with her or him whether your pet's particular treatment needs might best be served by referral to a specialty practice for the limited purpose of treating a specific condition.

Also, keep in mind that although specialty practices usually only see patients who are referred by a general practitioner, those that maintain Emergency/Critical Care facilities will see any patient in need of immediate care. So, make a note of the location of the nearest emergency veterinary facility in your area just in case the need should arise.

Credit: Reviewed by Dr. Amy Attas
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