I debated on the title of this blog for quite a while…the other option was “Why Can’t I Get An Appointment Quickly at the Veterinary Office?” Both are indicative of the challenges that are facing veterinarians and their teams across the United States. So, as cities and states have “opened” back up from the pandemic, why do we continue to see long wait times or a lack of appointment availability at your pet’s doctor?
Historically, most veterinary offices have had appointments available within 24-72 hours of your phone call…likewise, emergency animal hospitals might get busy and have a 1-2 hour wait when multiple critical cases arrive simultaneously, but those waits would quickly dissipate over the course of an evening. Since the pandemic started and more people have stayed at home, veterinary offices have seen a sharp increase in cases, sometimes overwhelming a very fragile system.
As has been reported elsewhere, pet adoptions have increased during the 2nd quarter of 2020, meaning more people have added to their furry families. In addition, as people worked from home, they started noticing more things about their pets…why does he scratch all day? What is that odor from his ears? In turn, calls for appointments rose sharply at a time when the efficiency of those appointments was decreasing.
In “normal” times, you bring your pet to the veterinary office, you get to go to an exam room fairly quickly and the history taking, questions, and staff evaluation of your pet can be done in a pretty expedient manner. In today’s world, all of the information that needs to be gathered must happen while you sit in your car, or, sometimes, over the phone and we all know that it’s hard to effectively communicate when you can’t see the other person and respond to their non-verbal clues. Beyond that, getting the pet inside the building adds steps (and time). All in all, the appointments are longer, which means that fewer appointments can be scheduled each day.
This is all BRAND NEW for the veterinary team…we are used to interacting with owners face-to-face and watching expressions and body language to make sure that our clients are understanding the information we share. The “back and forth” communications, either at car-side or on the phone, are taking longer. While we are making huge strides to improve efficiency and see more pets each day, it’s not as simple as just adding another computer or another phone line…the resources that we need are those dedicated, passionate pet care advocates. Finding them, and then training those folks takes time!
In addition, we need to ensure that you, the client, approve of all medical procedures we are going to do. We generate treatment plans so that you can see the costs associated with everything. This allows YOU to decide the level of care for your pet. It’s important but it does add to the complexity of a visit.
The other complicating factor is that some veterinary offices are unable to maintain their normal hours because of their own unique situation. Perhaps some of their team needing to quarantine after exposure or, more likely, some of the team is unavailable to work because of childcare concerns. With fewer clinics available to provide for increasing numbers of pets, owners concerned for their furry friend will turn to the animal emergency rooms. Reports from across the United States have shown some animal ERs are seeing 35-50% more cases this year than last year. While this may be good news (more pets being seen), coupled with carside check-ins, these cases are starting to flood a system not used to the demand. And, again, wait times go up!
What can you do when you need to get your new pet in for important vaccinations or maybe you’ve noticed an ear/skin infection, vomiting, or lameness? First, do be prepared to wait…as stated above, the process for check-in is a little more complex than what you have experienced in the past? Next, be flexible…historically, veterinarians have been able to offer a wide variety of appointment times but increasing caseload and longer appointments means that you might need to adapt your schedule to what the office has available.
Be understanding when you see other pets go in before your pet does…in a lobby or waiting room, you can often sense the urgency of the team or see the critical nature of that pet being rushed to the back. You are less likely to notice that same thing when you are in your vehicle.
Consider using a telehealth app on your mobile device…like AirVet. These video conferencing applications can let you speak with a licensed veterinarian prior to actually making an appointment or visiting the emergency room.
Most importantly…have grace and empathy for what these veterinary teams are experiencing right now. Like human healthcare workers (and a wide variety of other jobs/careers/professions), these compassionate staff members were deemed “essential” and have not had the opportunity to work from home or experience down time. In fact, as we know, their daily jobs have gotten busier and busier over the last 4-5 months. From firsthand experience, I can tell you that these dedicated individuals are grateful to be working, thankful that they can be there to help you and your pets, and continue to show up, day after day and hour after grueling hour. They deserve a little respect and not a rant because the available appointment times don’t match your schedule.
Finally, every one of us, whether in the veterinary profession or not, is human and prone to human fallibilities. If you experience an issue with the service you receive or the perception of care at your veterinary office, reach out to the hospital FIRST and let them have an opportunity to rectify or resolve the issues. Posting your outrage on social media before allowing ANY business (veterinary or other) to fix your concern is quite literally nothing more than complaining for the sake of complaining.
Times are different than before and everyone has their own challenges they face daily…but, you can make a difference by how you act and react at the veterinary office. All of us are appreciative of our kind, pleasant clients and most of us will go above and beyond to provide the care your pets need. But, when clients start acting out, not listening, or even berating veterinary teams for circumstances beyond their control, the damage those clients can do to the caring, gentle individuals at the veterinary office is not only undeserved, it causes far more repercussions than you know.
How has your veterinary team helped you during the last several months?