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What does ‘diagnostics’ mean on a vets’ website and is it important?

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Diagnostics is a shortened word for diagnostic tools, within the medical world and there are many different types. Diagnostic tools include: tests such as testing for eye ulcers using fluoresceine dye; imaging techniques such as ultrasound or radiograph; sampling options, for example urinalysis; and surgical skills allowing for samples such as biopsies to be obtained. Diagnostic tools are things veterinary professionals may use to aid finding a diagnosis to a condition. Each different clinical presentation will require a different diagnostic testing in order to find the most likely diagnosis effectively and safely. 

Why are diagnostic tools important?

The more diagnostic tools on offer to your pet, the more likely your veterinary professional is to reach a diagnosis, because of the wide range of diseases they can test for. Different tests have different uses – largely because of their sensitivity and specificity for a specific disease.

Some testing methods are specific in their approach 

This means if they test positive, it is very likely that your pet has the specific disease we were looking for. This testing method is best if your veterinarian has a high clinical suspicion of one disease.

Other testing methods may be more sensitive

This is useful for screening when multiple disease processes could be causing the clinical signs displayed. And so more information is needed, as negative results are believable. In many cases, a narrow range of testing methods are needed in order to reach a conclusion.

Blood testing and radiography are the most frequent initial diagnostic tests we perform 

Most, if not all veterinary practices are now able to offer these services. But more advanced or specific diagnostic testing may not be available at basic veterinary practices. 

If your first opinion vet is able to perform a wider variety of diagnostic tests, you are less likely to need to be referred to a special veterinary hospital to reach a diagnosis. This is useful as it means your pet will not need to travel should they be in a poor health condition; helping to keep your pet as stable and calm as possible. Ideally, you want your pet to travel as short a distance as possible when they are ill; so choosing referral hospitals that are close by is important. The closer your pet is, the easier they are to visit too. 

Referral level treatment and testing costs more money; so having as many tests performed at your regular veterinary practice may well work out cheaper. Sometimes, referral practices are too busy to take on new clients, meaning they may reject the referral and you and your veterinary practice will need to continue looking for a suitable option. 

Some first opinion practices have travelling diagnostic testing methods available, for example, a travelling CT scan. This means on certain dates they will be able to offer additional diagnostic testing for your pets without the added price and stress of referral. 

If you do get referred, the referral hospital will commonly repeat tests already performed

This is to check for any changes and to ensure they have as much information as they possibly can obtain. Referral hospitals often have the most up-to-date machines, so their results are more likely to be more thorough and potentially more accurate. Practices with more funding will be able to purchase more expensive, higher quality diagnostic tools too, so attending an up-to-date practice is important. Having good imaging machines means the images produced will be easier to see and therefore, easier to analyse. 

To conclude, having a wide variety of diagnostic testing methods within a practice could prove very beneficial should your pet become ill. Reaching a diagnosis as quickly as possible is important because the sooner you can start an appropriate treatment plan, the sooner your pet is likely to feel better. The sooner disease is identified, the better the prognosis too!

So on balance, a practice with a wider range of diagnostic techniques available is usually better for you.

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