VetSOAP Publishes First-Ever Literature Review of Veterinary Profession Referral Dynamics

Extensive research explores quantifying outcomes of specialty

Specialists Outreach & Awareness Project
(VetSOAP), a nonprofit
organization composed of veterinarians in primary and specialty care,
along with industry professionals, has announced the completion and
impending publication of the first-ever comprehensive literature review
of referral dynamics. This represents the conclusion of Phase 1 of a
multiphase research project designed to demonstrate through quantifiable
data that collaborative care improves outcomes.

“This literature review summarizes over one hundred published sources
regarding referral dynamics between the primary care veterinarian
(pcDVM) and veterinary specialists,” said Julie D. Smith, DVM, DACVS,
MBA, VetSOAP president. “This first step synthesizes known factors that
influence the referral process. Equally as important, the review
identifies information gaps where VetSOAP will focus the next phase of
our research.”

The information gathered implies that market dynamics such as declining
visits and increased numbers of graduates in primary and specialty care
could affect referral dynamics. Key factors influencing referral
dynamics include perception of a client’s willingness or ability to pay,
perception of client satisfaction, and clear, prompt communication
between the specialist, pcDVM, and pet owner. The research also revealed
interesting parallels between veterinary medicine and human dentistry.

While the review provides important perspectives on referral dynamics,
additional qualitative and quantitative study is necessary to gain a
comprehensive understanding. Phases 2 and 3 of VetSOAP’s research will
explore the following in more depth:

  • Financial impact of client referral on the pcDVM – Does a
    robust referral dynamic result in a healthier/more successful
    veterinary practice and by what measures?
  • pcDVM referral dynamics – What are the characteristics of a
    successful relationship between primary care and specialty
    veterinarians? What is the current magnitude of the differential
    between a pcDVM’s perception of a client’s willingness to pay and a
    client’s actual willingness to pay? How does the use of pet insurance
    and/or financing influence the perception of referral?
  • Client satisfaction and patient outcomes – What is the
    pet owner’s awareness of, understanding of, and expectations related
    to the field of veterinary specialty care?

“Defining and creating a path forward to advance patient care, to
provide longer, healthier lives for pets, and create overall economic
progress for our profession are goals many of us share,” said VetSOAP
board member Philip J. Bergman, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM (Oncology), who
chaired this phase of research. “It is evident from this extensive
review of data that shifting towards a true collaborative approach is an
essential part of this critical path forward to ensure optimal outcomes.”

For more details on the research, download a copy of the Literature
Review Executive Summary and full report at

About VetSOAP

is a 501(c) 6 organization focused on creating a culture of
collaboration to help achieve optimal health care for animals, advance
the veterinary profession, and evolve the relationship between primary
care veterinarians and specialists. To learn more please visit


Judith Gass, MBA
Executive Director