VETERINARY MEDICINE IN THE TIME OF COVID

Someone please make the phone shut up!

The phones are ringing off the hook in veterinary hospitals everywhere. We can’t begin to accommodate the number of appointment requests we receive each day. Even in a hospital full of devoted veterinarians willing to see walk in, urgent care and emergencies over their lunch, we can’t accommodate the number of requests. 

Why are veterinary hospitals so busy during Covid (and what has this shown us about our industry and how we treat each other?)

Veterinary medicine has been deemed essential since day one of Covid restrictions. Most of us have been working normal hours and then some. It’s been crazy busy with a variety of reactions from the families that we are serving, some good and some so horrible its difficult to even imagine (or at least I hope). Some of my colleagues think veterinarians will soon be going back to seeing clients in exam rooms; returning to shaking hands or hugging as a routine greeting and will no longer have to suffer through the phone as a necessary exam tool.

But I think we’re still a long way from that. And since we are in for a long haul, we need to start asking some tough questions and develop solutions to the issues that Covid continues to highlight in our field. This sounds vague, and it is, but we’ll try and clarify and work through these issues throughout multiple discussions. Let’s start with the first question, Why are we F-ing so busy?!

Some hospitals are closing or have limited staffing and hours

Some hospitals are shortening their hours or closing altogether. Because of this, other hospitals are seeing a lot of their patients. This has led to a shortage of available veterinarians to see routine and/or sick appointments. As hospitals reopen and we adapt to Covid procedures such as curbside service, things should slow down a bit. Nonetheless, as hospitals reopen the calls keep coming. 

The obvious suggestion: people are at home more, like ALL THE TIME

Now that many are home more, if not all the time, they may be paying closer attention to their animals. Is the scratching and stench from the skin/ear infection now an issue because they can’t leave the house to escape it? 

Are families becoming more aware of arthritic changes or signs of pain and discomfort now that dogs are going on more walks and cats are more closely, or routinely observed getting onto their cat trees? 

Now that everyone is home, maybe families are realizing that noone keeps filling the food bowl. Its actually still full because their pets are eating less due to some underlying ailment. 

This has been great for a lot of animals to finally get the attention they need and deserve. 

FLUTD cats, this is a no brainer

There has been a flood of FLUTD, or stress cystitis cats, as the cats are sooo ready for their cohabitants to go back to work, school, doggie day care. Cats are no longer able to get the 26hrs of sleep per day that they require. 

Cats manifest their stress in a few predictable ways, most notably through their bladder and urinary system. Those of you not intimately involved in vet med might not realize that when cats get stressed, they develop urinary issues, the most concerning being the male cat that becomes “blocked” or unable to urinate. As many of us in the trenches know, most blocked cats have a fairly predictable history – a recent move, new 2 legged baby, puppy, kitten, diet change, construction, you name it – ANYTHING new or different. It doesn’t take much to stress a cat. The recent change in their daily schedule that includes TVs or computers blaring throughout the day, zoom meetings, kids at home, and just in general more noise and activity does not agree with your average cat and has led to them presenting for a variety of issues. 

Growing families

Households are growing with new puppies and kittens, because why not!? I have heard so many times over the past few months, “we were going to get a new puppy this fall, but now we’re all home and can’t do any of our normal summer traveling…” You can fill in the rest I’m sure. 

This has been a true bright spot during Covid – LOTS of new puppies and kittens! However, they do require a considerable amount of time from the vet staff to make sure all the appropriate vaccines, dewormings and discussions take place. No complaints though from anyone!

Money

Some individuals furloughed and on unemployment may be making more money. Many who normally make minimum wage are doing better financially with unemployment and stimulus checks. People might also be saving since no one can go out to dinner, brunches, happy hours, etc. Less commuting means less gas money and potential car repairs. This, in combination with increased availability, may be allowing people to bring their pets in for the first time in a while. 

Emergency rooms

Emergency room wait times are around 3-6 hours on any day of the week. Some have had to close for 1-2 nights at a time because they are at capacity and unable to see any additional patients. My heart goes out to the ER staff – as they are not getting of the thanks that they deserve, just yelled at for how long the wait times are, or how expensive things are…you name it. 

Dialogue

So I have been asking all of my veterinary friends and I realize that noone will have THE answer. There is not one divine answer, hence no singular solution. 

Maybe we’re too tired to figure it out! 

I’d love to hear what YOU have to say!

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