Dr. Lisette Lewis is the chief medical officer for Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG). A graduate of Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, Dr. Lewis completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine and then began her career as a VEG emergency doctor. She is a champion of the human-animal bond and empowers emergency veterinarians to use their skills to their fullest potential to help people and their pets when they need it most.Read Articles Written by Lisette Lewis
Ready or not, so-called pandemic pets, or those adopted during the COVID-19 crisis, are here to stay and need to be properly cared for. An impressive 78% of pet owners adopted pets during the pandemic, increasing pet spending by 11% over a few short years.
The sudden shift requires the veterinary industry to act fast to keep up with the ever-growing demand for pet care, especially in light of labor shortages plaguing the field. As more pet owners move away from at-capacity clinics and specialty hospitals, the need for accessible, affordable and reliable care will continue to dominate the market.
Supply and Demand
Many industries are in flux because of the ever-changing landscape of the modern workforce, and the veterinary field is no exception. With one of the highest turnover rates of all health care positions, veterinarians are leaving faster than they can be replaced, leading to longer wait times for clients and heavier workloads for the remaining employees.
Simply put, something needs to change. An effective solution is providing new veterinarians with innovative training programs and the opportunity to work while they learn. One example is Veterinary Emergency Group’s New ER Doctor Program, which offers essential hands-on experience and a competitive salary, reducing the financial burden on a new veterinarian. Preventing burnout also should be prioritized through continued employee support, recognition and engagement.
The Shift Toward Emergency Care
Packed clinics and long wait times are recipes for disaster, especially in an emergency. Imagine pet owners worried about their dogs’ strained breathing over multiple days. They wait in a local clinic for what feels like forever just to be told that they need to take their pet to the ER, wasting excessive time and money on their first trip.
Our industry has and will continue to focus on developing emergency
veterinary clinics to combat that scenario. With the natural increase in the volume of customers (credited to pandemic pets), pet owners must be strategic in their care choice to ensure they are seen promptly, avoiding any risk to their pets’ health.
Emergency veterinary clinics must step up to the plate by:
- Implementing 24/7 locations.
- Investing in structured, streamlined workflows.
- Committing to transparency in care, whether financial or otherwise.
ERs provide constant access to trustworthy, efficient care that puts an owner’s mind at ease. 24/7 care from experienced ER doctors ensures that pets don’t wait days to get help.
ER clinics also must prioritize seamless check-ins, such as bringing the patient directly to the treatment area rather than wasting precious time at the front desk filling out paperwork. When a pet owner can speak to a veterinarian immediately, the animal is treated faster. It’s as simple as that.
Additionally, being upfront about costs and payment plans can help to eliminate the stresses of seeking care. Providing people with this information and descriptive materials on identifying emergencies builds trust with the clinic and ensures the animal receives the right care at the right time.
Limiting Financial Burdens
In times of economic uncertainty, pet owners often have to make difficult decisions on when to seek care in a potential emergency. And in more extreme cases, they are forced to surrender their pets entirely to ensure they stay afloat financially. It is the responsibility of clinics and ERs alike to educate customers on balancing care and budgets so shelters don’t overflow with surrendered animals.
Despite most pets being considered family members and treated with priority, inflation and an impending recession have caused a decline in case volume and delays in routine evaluations.
When pet owners bring in their furry friends, they need to be met with financial transparency regarding all treatment plans. For example, clinics can offer a team approach in developing a treatment plan, having customers buy into anything they plan to do while listening to their concerns and wishes. If a customer can’t afford the recommended course of treatment, it is essential that veterinarians cater to the budget and offer additional routes for care. If the charge would be overwhelming, clinics should provide information on charities and nonprofits that can alleviate the financial burdens of essential care.
It is also the clinic’s job to maintain integrity. For example, if an owner comes into an emergency clinic and the pet is examined, the customer should not be charged if the recommended care is better suited for a regular veterinarian. Fees should be accrued for only the services provided, period.
A Customer-First Approach
No matter the type of clinic, all veterinarians should prioritize their customers. Without customers, they have no business, and really, what is a veterinarian without pets? All our industry can do is be malleable to meet customer needs, whether developing new training and incentive programs to combat the labor shortage or reinventing how care is streamlined to avoid long wait times.
Financial burdens can weigh on pet owners, so it is essential that veterinarians be compassionate, honest and flexible. There is no better time than now to put pets first for the sake of the customers and the longevity of the veterinary industry.