Give Us a Break – At this time’s Veterinary Enterprise

I’ve never had the more urgent need to reply to an article than Mark Opperman’s “My Dog Broke His Leg” in the October / November 2020 issue of Today’s Veterinary Shop.

I read and reread the article several times to make sure I responded in a measured and thoughtful manner, and not just with disbelief and anger.

I was surprised to see the article from someone who is considered a top veterinary practice advisor who tells the rest of us how veterinary practices should be run. I felt attacked by the very kind of person who should have the best insight into the incredible challenges we as veterinarians are currently facing during a pandemic. If someone who claims to understand veterinary practice so well can write an article like this, then we must all be doomed!

I am physically and emotionally exhausted, trying to provide quality services to both animals and their devoted humans during these troubled times. I am a lone practitioner fortunate to have several wonderful 24 hour emergency and referral clinics a reasonable distance from my clinic seven days a week. That was a saving grace for me.

I leave several appointment slots open every day and try to anticipate urgent cases like Mr Opperman’s where clients expect to be seen immediately by the vet they have a steadfast relationship with. These slots are occupied within a few moments in the morning, and I have to turn away a lot more clients like Mr. Opperman every day.

Like most veterinary practices in my region, I am usually fully booked several weeks in advance. While I do my best to accommodate everyone, I cannot physically accommodate everyone. It doesn’t matter that I want to. I’m smart enough to know this realistically, I can’t.

I’m angry – no, make that angry – that someone who professes to understand the profession so well can sit on their high horse and tell us how to fail and how to do better. Sit in my clinic and try to make the 60+ calls I often get in a couple of hours, mostly from people who want to speak to me directly or be seen today, and then tell me when I do I leave the house every evening at 10 p.m. so that I can “treat” my customers better.

Mr Opperman played the card “I thought I had a relationship with my vet” citing the number of animals he has and the fact that he is a “good and substantial customer” who does not save on his pets. Definitely jump to the head of the line and let me edit you … where? In “normal” times most vets would try to take in such clients, but how is it possible that someone like Mr Opperman in particular does not understand during a pandemic why his vet may not be able to? “Really?” Instead, he seems to feel that at least a doctor could have seen his pet even if he had been referred.

Mr Opperman mentions the “excellent emergency hospital” to which he is fortunate to have close access, and yet even that is not good enough. In our region, emergency clinics are much busier than usual.

While I have a feel for the owners who wait hours for news about their pets, who don’t have a chance to meet the veterinarian directly, or who are obviously frustrated with COVID restrictions that have improved their experience with emergency visits, however i understand the situation and encourage customers to be patient.

In Mr. Opperman’s case, he mentions that he spoke to the vet three times by phone and that she knew his name. But she never came out. He says the wait wasn’t too long, but the practice could have been more accurate with time estimates or called him more often. None of this was “good enough”.

Does Mr. Opperman understand anything about the incredibly twisted times we are in? Assuming the emergency clinics are much “busier” than me, as they take over the overflow of all the veterinary clinics in their areas, I am not surprised that the vets cannot jump out into the parking lot for a quick chat with each customer or that waiting times may be underestimated become. I wish someone who stood by the pulse of veterinary practice management had shown support for what we go through rather than punishing us for our shortcomings.

My small-town vet practice style allows me to get in touch with customers who I later have to turn away. If I believe that your situation needs urgent attention, I must refer you elsewhere. I’m glad there are several good options near me. Most customers understand the limitations I may face in this COVID world and understand that I may not be able to see them.

Some, like Mr. Opperman, feel different. During these times, the vast majority of my customers will understand the challenges I am facing, but I know I will still lose some customers. Clients like Mr. Opperman will react like irritable children who have not received enough or the right attention. For these types of customers, I will not mourn their loss.

Dr. Sue Rancurello is the owner of Dr. Sue in Bellbrook, Ohio.