There’s a good chance, wherever you are today in the United States, your local veterinary practice is swamped. Or the veterinary team there feels overwhelmed. Or you feel rushed or have trouble getting appointments.
What’s going on? There is no single, for-sure answer, but the business and veterinary community have some guesses.
Why veterinary practices seem so busy during the COVID-19 pandemic
People adopted pets. Did you join others stuck at home during lockdowns and take in a new animal? Those animals needed vaccines, checkups and visits when they’re sick. Folks at Banfield Pet Hospital make the pitch that an increase in business at their hospitals is partly a result of new animals in homes. Economist Matthew Salois, PhD, at the American Veterinary Medical Association, however, says nationwide adoption numbers were down from the year before. Salois argues that pent-up demand from the lockdown may have contributed to a spike in visits.
Pet owners noticed more medical issues. Home with your animals all day, you might have noticed problems you didn’t see before. Some of these issues need veterinary visits. When it’s a frightfully sick patient, you might have also been more worried than usual. Why? More stress in other parts of our lives can make us more cranky about anything worrisome that pops up.
Processes were more complicated (and annoying). It feels like everyone everywhere in America had to change the way they worked, shopped, visited friends and family, and more. Usually, it was no fun. The veterinary hospital was no different. Many of you can’t come in during visits with your pet. It probably feels like being asked to wait outside the pediatrician’s office while your toddler gets looked at. Some of these changes may be inefficient for the hospital, slowing things down, or might be off-putting to you. Veterinary teams also want you to enjoy more face-to-face communication alongside your pet.
Some hospitals closed. Animal hospitals that closed temporarily or permanently increased business to existing hospitals. Others with staff infected with COVID-19 may have closed periodically when outbreaks happened, temporarily increasing demand at existing hospitals.
“More people have more time to adopt and focus on pets,” says Jeff Rothstein, DVM, MBA, with Mission Veterinary Partners. “And at this high-demand time, there are still a fair number of veterinary hospitals with limited capacity.
Veterinary team members never took a break. Most veterinary hospitals closed for only a short time at the start of state lockdowns. Veterinary hospitals got busier with nonurgent visits that had been postponed. Mix that with a scramble to change how medicine is practiced with COVID-19 safety and you’ve got a traffic jam. This busy-ness at a stressful time for the world takes a toll.
So, you’re stressed when you need to get your pet to the veterinarian and there’s a long wait for care. And you (probably) don’t want to sit outside in the car for curbside service, COVID-19 or not. And you’re stressed with life in general, and a less-than-perfect experience at the veterinary hospital, which costs money at a time when you’re a little financially worried.
You would be totally forgiven if you get irritable when doctors and team members are a little short with you. You might also appreciate how veterinary professionals—doctors, nurses, assistants, receptionists and kennel attendants—are overwhelmed with the volume of work, the sometimes inefficient new COVID-19 safety protocols, and the frustration, day in, day out, they hear from clients. And that makes them cranky.
The situation is not easily or quickly solvable.
Where does that leave us?
What everyone can do to help
There’s a quote that gets attributed to Plato that, near as we can tell, didn’t come from him at all: “Be kind. Everyone you meet is having a hard battle.”
What could the veterinary practice (and the world) be like if people kept this in mind?
Pet owners who encounter a rushed voice on the other end of the phone line could remember that veterinary hospitals deal with stressful medical emergencies. A pet could be dying. A pet could be dead. Unknown medical emergencies could have come tumbling through the door just minutes before an employee answered a call for a routine checkup. And maybe that team member, that day, is sick or dealing with financial problems or is facing grief from someone else’s illness or death.
These are human beings who may be overworked, stressed (for good reason) and not having their best day.
And what should veterinary professionals keep in mind every day? They can remember that clients (maybe you) are facing strains in your own life—job losses and layoffs at a time when veterinary practices are flush with business. You may be frustrated that you can’t get in to see the doctor and you worry about the dangers of delaying a visit. Maybe, on any given day, you’re sick yourself, or dealing with financial problems, or grieving someone else’s illness or death.
We are all human beings who may be overworked, stressed (for good reason) and not having our best day.
If everybody gave everybody else a break, not reacting out of their own exhaustion and stress, but taking a beat and imagining how bad things could be for the person on the other end of the phone, on the other side of the glass door, on the other end of the email exchange … that might go a LONG way to managing a stressful pandemic and a nation full of very busy veterinary practices that may not slow down anytime soon.
BIO: Brendan Howard has been writing for veterinarian and pet-owner audiences for more than 13 years.