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Give Us a Break

Give Us a Break

I have never felt a more urgent need to respond to an article than I do to Mark Opperman’s “My Dog Broke His Leg” in the October/November 2020 issue of Today’s Veterinary Business.

I read and reread the article multiple times, ensuring that I would respond in a measured, thoughtful way rather than just with disbelief and anger.

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

I am exhausted — physically and emotionally — trying to still provide quality services to both animals and their attached humans during these trying times. I am a solo practitioner who is lucky enough to have several wonderful 24-hour, seven-day-a-week emergency and referral clinics within a reasonable distance from my clinic. That has been a saving grace for me.

I leave open multiple appointment slots every single day, trying to anticipate urgent cases like the one Mr. Opperman found himself in, where clients expect that they will be able to be seen promptly by the veterinarian they have an established relationship with. Those slots are filled within moments in the morning, and I have to turn away many more clients just like Mr. Opperman every day.

Like most veterinary practices in my area, I am mostly booked out for several weeks in advance. Although I do my best to fit everyone in, I cannot physically accommodate everyone. Doesn’t matter that I want to. I am smart enough to know that realistically, I cannot.

I am angry — no, make that furious — that someone who professes to understand the profession so well can sit on his high horse and tell us how we are failing and how we should be doing better. Come sit in my clinic trying to field the 60-plus phone calls I often get in a few-hour time frame, mostly from people who want to speak with me directly or be seen today, and then tell me as I am walking out the door at 10 p.m. every night that I need to be “handling” my clients better.

Mr. Opperman played the “I thought I had a relationship with my veterinarian” card, citing the number of animals he has and the fact that he is a “good and substantial client” who spares no expense for his pets. By all means, jump to the head of the line and let me work you in … where? In “normal” times, most vets would attempt to accommodate such clients, but during a pandemic, how is it possible that someone like Mr. Opperman, especially, doesn’t understand why his veterinarian might not be able to do this? Really? Instead, he seems to feel that at least a doctor could have looked at his pet, even if he was still referred on.

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

While I feel for the owners who wait for hours to hear news of their pets, who don’t have an opportunity to meet directly with the veterinarian or who are plain frustrated by COVID restrictions that have upended their emergency visit experience, I understand the situation and encourage clients to please be patient.

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

Again, does Mr. Opperman understand anything about the incredibly twisted times we are in? Assuming the emergency clinics are on a much higher magnitude of “busy-ness” than I am, as they are taking on the overflow from all the veterinary clinics in their areas, it doesn’t surprise me that the veterinarians can’t pop out to the parking lot for a quick chat with each client or that the wait times might be underestimated. I wish someone who professes to have his finger on the pulse of veterinary practice management would have shown some support for what we are going through instead of chastising us for our shortcomings.

My small-town veterinary practice style is one that allows me to connect with clients whom I subsequently have to turn away. If I believe their situation is one requiring urgent care, then I do and must refer them elsewhere. I am glad there are several good options near me. Most clients understand the constraints that I might be facing in this COVID world and understand that I might not be able to see them.

Some, like Mr. Opperman, feel otherwise. In these times, while the overwhelming majority of my clients will understand the challenges I face, I know that I will still lose some clients. Clients like Mr. Opperman will react like petulant children who weren’t given enough, or all the right, attention. For those types of clients, I will not mourn their loss.

Dr. Sue Rancurello is the owner of Dr. Sue’s Animal Clinic in Bellbrook, Ohio.