Why are we so busy? As many of our clients have experienced, vet offices are faced with booking wellness appointments out 4-6 weeks out, and are even struggling to see sick patients with in 3-4 days. We are forced with the daily decision to have to refer sick patients to emergency clinics, knowing that the emergency clinics are also overwhelmed and busy. So what happened to change our scheduling availability so drastically? Over the last few years, the pet population has grown very quickly. Statistics say that in 2019 there were 135,000,000 pets in the united states, and in 2021 that number had risen to 183,000,000! At the same time, the number of working veterinarians only went up from 123,000 to 126,000. That is only 3000 more vets working to support 48 million more pets. The other factor at play here is the shortage of other support staff needed to run our daily operations, such as kennel staff, receptionists and veterinary technicians. Covid could also be a contributing factor in this scenario as many people transitioned to working from home, and many of those people added pets to their family. So, what strategies are veterinarians using to cope with all of this? Many veterinary practices in our area have stopped taking new patients simply because they just do not have the ability to add to their already overwhelmed schedules, or they have adjusted their hours so that their staff does not get overworked and burnt out. Many clinics are in an endless loop of searching for and hiring new staff, and finding ways to squeeze as many patients as we can into each day.
Here at PAH, we have made the decision for now to continue to accept new patients. We want to be there as an option for new patients, as there are not many places left for them to go. We also save half of our schedule every day for sick patients, and we have added a few day admission spots each day for any patient that may need to be seen more urgently. Every day we have 2 doctors seeing appointments, one doctor in surgery and one doctor out on the road seeing farm calls. We are watching our wellness appointments carefully, and trying to keep them within 4-6 weeks out booking. We have adjusted our vaccine reminders to go out 60 days ahead to give clients plenty of time to call us and get into our schedule. We also run cancellation lists and check them daily as our schedule fluctuates. We have also added in more technician appointments, as staffing allows, to accommodate patients that need things such as nail trims and boosters, things that may not need a DR. With all of this increased volume, our phone call volume also increased significantly, to the point that our clients were having a hard time reaching us. We just recently upgraded our entire phone system to accommodate the increased volume of calls and added new members to our receptionist team to be there to answer them. The other increase we have also seen is an increase in medication refill requests. We process a very large volume of medication requests every day, some coming from our clients via phone calls, some from our website, some from our online pharmacy, and many more from outside pharmacies such as Amazon, Chewy and 1-800-PETMEDS. We have also added links on our website where you can request appointments and medication refills.
Even after all of this preparation and planning, our days are still completely booked, overbooked most days, and we continue to struggle to see every sick patient that calls, answer every email and every phone call and process every medication refill request. So what can you do to help us? The very first thing is to remember to be patient and kind to every member of our staff. Our staff shows up every day, and works very hard to accommodate every patient we can. We take no pleasure in not being able to see your sick pet right away, we know how stressful it is for our clients, but know that it stresses us too. If we have to book your appointment farther than you expected, please know that we are doing our very best. If we refer you to an emergency clinic, know that we do this out of concern for your pet and not because we do not want to help. We often hear, “Can’t you just squeeze them in?”. We know how many patients we can accommodate each day, and after all of our saved sick appointments have been taken, and our drop off day admission spots have been filled, there really is nowhere to “squeeze them in”, and still give the quality care that each pet deserves.
The other ways that you can help us is to please call and get your wellness and annual appointments scheduled as soon as you can so that your pets important vaccinations do not lapse while waiting for an available appointment. Call your medication refills in 48 hours before you are going to run out so that we have time to process them. Each medication request must be approved by a DR before we can fill them, and as our doctors are in appointments most of the day, they usually tackle all of the medication refills over the lunch hour, or at the end of their day. After the medications are approved, then a technician has to process and fill each of them before they are ready for pick up. When we have large quantities of these medication refill requests, it can take some time to get through them, especially all in the same day.
The last few years have been challenging for so many businesses and people, and we have all had to be flexible and make changes in our daily lives to accommodate the “new normal”. Thank you to our amazing clients and patients, we love what we do, and value the opportunity to be your veterinarian. We are all in this together, so remember to plan ahead, be patient and always be kind.