Whether you are a first time pet owner, or navigating your four-legged companion’s gray muzzle years, you have likely experienced the frustration of a delayed veterinary care appointment. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected operations across all industries, and the veterinary profession is no exception. Since the beginning of 2020, the veterinary industry has experienced unprecedented demand, which has resulted in veterinary hospital staff across the country becoming overwhelmed with an increased workload.
Caring for your pet is a team effort, and veterinary staff are faced with daily struggles—made worse when pet owners are less than understanding. Yet, maintaining a strong and trusting veterinary-client-patient relationship is critical to ensure your pet remains healthy. Our Wales Animal Clinic team prides ourselves on providing gold star veterinary care, and we explain common reasons for veterinary industry overload, and ways to improve your veterinary care experience.
How pandemic protocols affect veterinary hospital appointments
Bringing your pet for an updated rabies vaccination, or a nail trim, may seem like a quick appointment, but new and additional hospital safety protocols can result in longer appointment times for procedures that previously were quickly completed. The safety of pets, staff, and pet owners is of the utmost importance. So, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) regularly updates recommended veterinary hospital safety guidelines and resources during these unprecedented times. Curbside veterinary care was implemented, which drastically increased appointment times, but limited the number of available appointments. Added time is also required to regularly sanitize hospital surfaces, to decrease illness spread among staff and clients.
Additionally, as hospitals were navigating pandemic changes in 2020, many were forced to temporarily close, or limit their appointments to urgent care cases only, which resulted in a large number of pets who needed non-urgent, wellness care. Many veterinary hospitals are still playing catch-up from the backlog of patients who have not received wellness veterinary care in more than two years, resulting in longer wait times for a scheduled appointment.
Veterinary staff shortages affect productivity
Many pet owners have recently encountered delays of weeks or more when trying to schedule their pet for a veterinary appointment. Urgent and emergency care hospitals are also experiencing extended wait times, resulting in increased pet owner frustration and stress. Nationwide veterinary staffing shortages are largely to blame for limited appointment availability and extended wait times. Our Wales Animal Clinic is also experiencing this staff shortage because one of our staff veterinarians left. However, your pet’s veterinary care team involves more than seeing only the veterinarian. Hospital staff, including receptionists, kennel assistants, technicians, and practice managers, all play an important role in ensuring hospital operations run smoothly and efficiently.
In addition, veterinary care involves more than vaccinating healthy puppies and kittens. The demands of caring for sick or injured pets, including providing end of life care, have caused increased compassion fatigue among veterinary staff. Increased burnout in an already challenging profession has resulted in many veterinary staff electing to take breaks, or to leave the profession altogether. According to the AVMA, the veterinary turnover rate is twice as high as in human doctors, and veterinary technicians have the highest turnover rate of all health care positions. Additionally, the added stress of the ongoing pandemic has affected staff availability when an employee or family member becomes sick, and they require extended time away from work. Therefore, limited staff directly affects the ability to examine and care for more pets, and ultimately results in longer wait times during your pet’s appointment.
Veterinary care is in high demand
Work commutes that have changed from long freeway drives, to a walk from the kitchen to the home office, has resulted in many pets living their best lives during the pandemic lockdown. Pets provided constant companionship during endless Zoom calls, and some may continue to make the occasional office call appearance, with many people still working remotely. Extended time at home has strengthened the human-animal bond, which is a vital component of caring for a four-legged companion. However, the switch to remote work means pet owners spending more time observing their pet’s daily habits, and the ability to observe subtle changes, such as increased litter box frequency, has led to an increased demand for veterinary appointments for their pet. This increased demand for veterinary care, combined with hospital staffing shortages, is the perfect equation for veterinary overload.
Ways to prepare for your veterinary appointment
While no simple solution can address the veterinary overload crisis, pet owners can improve their overall veterinary experience. Patience, kindness, and compassion toward veterinary staff will ensure the best experience for all involved in your pet’s care. Preparation is also key for decreasing wait times before, during, and after your pet’s veterinary care. Follow these tips for a smoother veterinary experience:
- Schedule wellness visits with our Wales Animal Clinic veterinarian three to four weeks in advance.
- Before your pet’s appointment, ensure you provide hospital staff with your pet’s vaccination history, and/or previous veterinary records.
- Use our online store for approved medication refills, to avoid an extended wait period during an in-person visit.
- Know your payment options, and consider pet insurance, to ensure funds are available for your pet’s required care.
Our Wales Animal Clinic understands the stress and frustration of extended wait times and limited appointment availability. We care for each pet with compassion and quality care, and ask for patience as we navigate our own veterinary staff shortages. This is an unprecedented time in the veterinary industry, so call our office as far in advance as possible, to schedule your pet’s wellness care appointment.