Has the Pandemic Changed Veterinary Care?

During 2020 the number of new pets in households has increased dramatically. With so many people working at home or on leave from jobs, much greater attention is paid to our four-legged companions.  These factors have resulted in a considerable increase in the demand for veterinary services in the US.  As most practices have gone to curbside care for the foreseeable future (Brockton Animal Hospital not included), the number of patients that can be scheduled daily has decreased as fewer pets can be seen with a curbside approach. In addition, during the last several years, the number of veterinarians in the US has not grown nearly fast enough to meet the needs of the public. The above has caused many issues to come to bear in the pet owning world. Consider the following:

  1. Longer wait times for appointments. Whether this is regarding a seriously ill pet or a new pet that needs a timely physical exam, continuation of immunization and/or deworming’s, it is a difficult problem.
  2. Less interaction and communication between doctor and client. It is nearly impossible to have the same fluid discussion between doctor and client when attempted via telephone, Facetime or a Zoom meeting. We have seen a number of missed diagnoses from other practices as a result of incomplete communication between hospital and client. We have all experienced similar when we have had a call with our own doctor only to realize afterwards we have forgotten to ask something we thought  critical.
  3. Delayed or missed input from clients regarding symptoms their pet may be exhibiting. An “in-room” appointment is an evolving story. The more time that is spent examining the pet and talking to the client, the more issues that are likely to surface.  Telemedicine visits, remote visits and curbside care do not allow for this most important aspect of a medical visit. No one knows your pet as well as you. Often the key to a diagnosis and treatment is hidden within your own mind. The doctor needs time and repeated questioning to discover some of these most important details. 
  4. The cost of care is increasing. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life in most areas of our economy. As veterinary medicine has become increasingly sophisticated as to what we can achieve, these advances come at a price. Additionally, the stress level of people within profession has grown exponentially during the pandemic. Necessary additional time off, furloughs, increased cost of child care, temporary hospital shutdowns, reduced hospital schedules, the psychological cost of being essential workers, this all plays a role in the economics of the veterinary profession.

Will these above changes revert once the pandemic has been declared over? Some may but unfortunately many will not.  The increase in pet numbers, the rise in demand for services, the preference of many doctors for curbside care and telemedicine, the shortage of veterinarians are all factors that will prevent a return to the previous “normal”. What can you as a pet owner do? While it is understandable when faced with an ill pet to sense an urgency for an appointment, remember that you are not alone. Be prepared to leave your pet at the hospital for several hours if your veterinarian cannot schedule a specific appointment. In the event this is not possible, ask your veterinarian to refer you to an urgent care clinic, one of the fastest growing segments of the veterinary field. It may not be ideal but it is certainly better than waiting several days with an ill pet. In addition, schedule an appointment as soon as possible with your regular practice and ask to be placed on a cancellation list. Be persistent in calling back to check your wait status. In most instances your appointment will be moved earlier. Also, be patient in waiting for call backs from the doctor or nurse if your pet is in the hospital. Hopefully, your regular practice is exemplary with returning calls. At the Brockton Animal Hospital, the doctors often don’t return calls until the afternoon or evening.  If there are several places you may be during the day, leave any and all numbers. This can be very helpful.

The veterinary care world is a different place than it was pre-pandemically. We must all work hard to achieve understanding each other’s plight and situation. In the meantime, Brockton Animal Hospital will strive to be there for you when you need our help.  We will do everything within our power to minimize the discomfort and suffering of our patients and their families. Let’s all continue to work together to achieve a common goal. Namely, that is to take care of our pet companions and live in a happier world.